The 15 Best Songs of May 2022

This may be a short week, but we’re making it count, with one eye (or is it ear?) on the music of the departed month of May—its best albums and now, songs, to be exact—and the other on the June releases to come. Some of the artists behind last month’s most impactful tracks, like vocal powerhouse Angel Olsen and micro-pop whiz Tony Molina, have new albums on the way, while others, like generational pop star Sky Ferreira, made their mark with standalone singles. We dig into that kind of context and more below, in our breakdown (and playlist) of May 2022’s best songs.

Listen to our Best Songs of May 2022 playlist on Spotify here.

Alex G: “Blessing“

Alex Giannascoli, the Philadelphia singer/songwriter and producer best-known as Alex G, has released his first proper single since 2019, “Blessing.” Giannascoli produced the track—out now on Domino, along with a music video—alongside his longtime collaborator Jacob Portrait. Dark and abrasive, “Blessing” begins with blaring synths that knock you off balance from the get-go. Suddenly, a resolute 4/4 beat replaces them, over which Giannascoli whispers, “Every day is a blessing / As I walk through the mud.” The track’s abrupt gearshifts are jarring by design, as if in an attempt to render its lyrical conceit as instrumentation: They say “every day above ground is a good day,” but there’s never any telling when things will take a turn for the worse. And life, like “Blessing” itself, can end without warning—no good, no bad, just gone. —Scott Russell

Angel Olsen: “Through the Fires“

Powerhouse singer/songwriter Angel Olsen recently shared the latest preview of her forthcoming album Big Time (June 3, Jagjaguwar), a single titled “Through the Fires,” with a lyric video shot by Angela Ricciardi. The song is a sweeping slow-burn in which Olsen seeks to transcend all of the love, heartbreak and loss that informed her new record. ”‘Through The Fires’ is the centerpiece statement of this record,” Olsen explained in a statement. “It’s a song I wrote to remind myself that this life is temporary, the past is not something to dwell on, that it’s important to keep moving, keep searching for the people that are also searching, and to notice the moments that are lighter and bigger than whatever trouble I’ve encountered.” The song begins with serenely sparse piano and percussion, over which Olsen stretches her delicate vocals, recalling when she “made up [her] mind / To learn to release the dreams that had died.” A string trio soon lend their sounds to hers, the instrumental gaining momentum as Olsen’s resolve solidifies. It’s only once she vows to “walk through the fires / Of all earthly desires / And let go of the pain that obstructs you from higher” that the song enters its cathartic crescendo, Olsen’s vocalizations dancing with the strings as she rises above it all. —Scott Russell

black midi: “Welcome to Hell“

The inimitable black midi are back again, announcing their third album Hellfire (July 15, Rough Trade) just shy of a year after the release of their second, and sharing the video for its ominously titled lead single, “Welcome to Hell.” Telling the stories of “morally suspect characters” in the first-person, the album reckons with “overlapping themes of pain, loss and anguish,” per a press release. “If Cavalcade was a drama, Hellfire is like an epic action film,” says frontman Geordie Greep in a statement. In its lead single, black midi render “the story of a shell shocked soldier’s excess and military discharge” via the kind of theatrical, shape-shifting rock they’re known for, considering “The massacres of ages / Too many to recall,” as Greep croaks, through the lens of Private Tristan Bongo. About two-thirds of the way through, the track takes a turn for the nightmarish, accelerating into full-blown thrash as Greep’s praise for our good soldier becomes condemnation: “You’re lucky I don’t shoot on the spot / Bullets were made for men like you / The impotent idiots God forgot.” A fleeting euphoric high collapses back into black midi’s guttural squalls and stomps, ending the song right where it began. —Scott Russell

Camp Trash: “Let It Ride“

Florida rockers Camp Trash first made waves in 2021 with their acclaimed debut EP Downtiming, and now the wait for their first full-length is nearly over. The Long Way, The Slow Way is coming this summer, out July 1 on Count Your Lucky Stars. Lead single “Let It Ride” feels like a statement of intent: Camp Trash are going their own way, however long and slow it may be, and they’re not looking back. “My best, I guess, ‘no excuses and no regrets’ / Keep no record of wrong or the money I spent,” sings vocalist and guitarist Bryan Gorman. Crunching power chords from Gorman and guitarist (and Paste contributor) Keegan Bradford move in lockstep with Levi Bradford and Alex Roberts’ low end, with backing harmonies and searing riffs seeing the track through its anthemic crescendo. Camp Trash couch their all-too-relatable struggles “to feel less insane” in relentlessly hooky guitar-rock that feels nostalgic and new at the same time. —Scott Russell

Chat Pile: “Slaughterhouse”

There’s something about the Midwest that breeds such dark, twisted music. Oklahoma City’s Chat Pile can be added to that roster. “Slaughterhouse,” the scathing lead single of their forthcoming debut God’s Country, is breathtaking. Vocalist Raygun Busch’s desperate wails and growls evoke an ugly, gruesome transformation scene. Chat Pile stare in the face of God and spit into it, taking upon the gritty nihilism of hardcore legends Man is the Bastard with the chaotic sonic inclination of The Jesus Lizard and Daughters. “All the blood / And the fuckin’ sound, man / You never forget their eyes … There’s more screaming than you’d think,” paints a bleak, gruesome picture of American life and monotony that is most honestly captured in dispatches from those existing on society’s margins. Chat Pile turn the repulsive into something tangible, and it’s as nostalgic as it is wholly original. —Jade Gomez

Cola: “Degree”

On the fourth single from their acclaimed debut Deep in View, Cola continue to carry Ought’s sound forward, introducing new and exciting permutations. Tim Darcy describes “Degree” as evoking “what it feels like running to catch the bus when you’re in a daze and suddenly have to sprint,” his lyrics dancing artfully around that concept of incomplete presence, divided attention. “Have you been to the movies lately? / Did you read the marquee? / It’s not even started and there is a push to leave,” the vocalist matter-of-factly observes. Meanwhile, drummer Evan Cartwright regulates Darcy and Ben Stidworthy’s strumming post-punk guitar and bass, the song galloping ahead despite its uncertain destination, like an empty car with a cinderblock on the gas pedal. —Scott Russell

Danger Mouse & Black Thought: “No Gold Teeth“

Two musical titans are teaming up with the announcement of Danger Mouse and Black Thought’s new joint album, Cheat Codes, coming Aug. 12 via BMG. The video for lead single “No Gold Teeth” is out now, and the track is precisely as airtight as you’d expect. Once rumored to be called “Dangerous Thoughts,” Cheat Codes is Danger Mouse’s (Brian Burton) first hip-hop album since 2005’s The Mouse & The Mask, his collaborative DANGERDOOM album with the late, great MF DOOM. Black Thought (Tariq Trotter), best known as the lead emcee of The Roots, completed his solo record trilogy Streams of Thought in 2020. The duo recruited an impressive list of collaborators for Cheat Codes, including A$AP Rocky, Run The Jewels, MF DOOM, Michael Kiwanuka, Joey Bada$$, Russ, Raekwon and Conway the Machine. On “No Gold Teeth,” Danger Mouse and Black Thought both bring their A-game: The former lays down a subtly triumphant, soul sample-driven beat, while the latter references DOOM, puts on for Philly and reminds everyone that, in terms of skill level, he’s breathing rarified air: “You ain’t fuckin’ with no amateurs, homie / Philly ain’t known for cheese steak sandwiches only / Stop, yo, I’m at the top where it’s lonely / I got everybody mean muggin’ like Nick Nolte.” Danger Mouse’s warm production is a natural fit for Black Thought’s cucumber-cool delivery and immaculate lyricism. —Scott Russell

Ganser: “People Watching“

After releasing one of Paste’s top albums of 2020 in their sophomore record Just Look at That Sky, Ganser are back with word of their new EP, Nothing You Do Matters (Oct. 5, Felte Records), produced by Angus Andrew of Liars. Ahead of the record, the Chicago four-piece shared the cinematic music video for lead track “People Watching,” which uses an immersive virtual “green screen” technology employed on productions like Disney+ hit The Mandalorian. In the course of their “People Watching,” Ganser see a dire state of affairs: “No one is asking / Everyone’s taking / No one is giving / Maybe you’re faking,” Nadia Garofalo sneers over dance-punk thrum, with backing vocals and keys orbiting her acerbic observations. Suddenly Ganser’s guitars fall away, the track collapsing into murky synth, uneasy drum patter and Alicia Gaines’ almost taunting inquisitions: “Where you gonna go? / No destination.” As the song finally spirals out, Garofalo intones, “Talk until your words lose meaning,” as if urging the people she’s watching towards both futility and freedom. —Scott Russell

Hellrazor: “Jello Stars“

This summer, Brooklyn-via-New Haven trio Hellrazor will release Heaven’s Gate, the follow-up to their 2016 debut Satan Smile. “Jello Stars,” our third preview of the album after May 2019’s “Landscaper” and November 2021’s “Globbed,” premiered right here at Paste on May 10. Though it’s just now surfacing officially, “Jello Stars” has been in Hellrazor’s orbit since not long after Satan Smile’s release, as the band told Paste: “We’ve played ‘Jello Stars’ in our live set since five years ago, and most of the song was tracked around then. We recently added more guitars and re-tracked the vocals. Some of the lyrics were revised to align with the dystopian themes on the next record. Most of the song is about ghosts in the machine and paranoia over potentially uncontrollable A.I.” Hellrazor itself has changed, too: Bandleader, vocalist and guitarist Michael Falcone (Speedy Ortiz, Ovlov) is now joined by bassist Kate Meizner (The Glow, Jobber, Potty Mouth touring alum) and drummer Michael Henss (HEELE). “Jello Stars” retains the lo-fi rock sensibility of foundational Hellrazor influences like Sebadoh and Guided by Voices, but those rough edges are secondary to hazy pop hooks that the band embed in rushing, rippling walls of distorted guitar. Henss’ drums race and Meizner’s bass notes fly while Falcone’s vocals sit low in the mix over an arpeggiated riff, and the trio shift into a noticeably higher gear in the track’s sticky choruses, burying those “Jello Stars” deep inside your brain. Feedback encroaches on the outro, like a flying saucer hovering just above the track. —Scott Russell

JayWood: “Just Sayin’”

Winnipeg singer/songwriter Jeremy Haywood-Smith, aka JayWood, impressed us with the quiet confidence of his 2021 EP Some Days, a guitar-forward psych-pop collection with the potential to resonate far beyond the bedroom in which it began. “Just Sayin’,” the first single from JayWood’s forthcoming album Slingshot (July 15, Captured Tracks), finds him realizing that potential, though not in the way you may have expected: Originally written for another artist, the song finds Haywood-Smith pushing himself into glossy electro-pop territory, stepping out of his comfort zone while, in his songwriting, urging others to do the same. “Just Sayin’” is equal parts dance-floor jam and wake-up call: “Just because you grew up in a dream / Don’t mean, no harm no foul / People don’t go out of their way / To see the world on fire,” he sings over a springy synth bass line and Chic-like guitar chug, beckoning the privileged out of their bubbles and into a world in which they have the power to make a difference. —Scott Russell

Julia Jacklin: “Lydia Wears a Cross“

It’s a great time to be a Julia Jacklin fan: The Australian singer/songwriter has announced her third album, PRE PLEASURE (Aug. 26, Polyvinyl Record Co.), shared the video for its lead single and opener, “Lydia Wears a Cross,” and announced a 2022 world tour. “Lydia Wears a Cross” finds Jacklin examining religion through her childhood eyes over sparsely atmospheric drum machine and piano—at least at first. “I’d be a believer / If it was all just song and dance,” she insists over an indistinct guitar riff, unable to feel a connection to her spirituality except through the transportive power of performance. Live drums and synths kick in unexpectedly as the song builds, and Jacklin vocalizes wordlessly through its climax, as if finally finding the transcendence she was seeking. —Scott Russell

Pool Kids: “That’s Physics, Baby”

This week, Pool Kids dropped “That’s Physics, Baby,” the first release from their forthcoming self-titled album, out July 22. Following the release of 2018’s Music To Practice Safe Sex To, the Tallahassee-based band announced their comeback in a big way with a single that sounds like math-rock meets mid-western emo. Lead-singer Christine Goodwyne’s lyrics serve as a snapshot of the dizzying circles someone spins her in as she belts, “can’t quite tell what you’ve ever been after / clockwork motor, you wind me up again / crumple me up like a candy wrapper / throw me away, I’d rather not pretend.” While the song expresses her frustration with the situation, the accompanying music video captures the band’s quirky side as they pose as a down on their luck nature documentary crew. —Samantha Sullivan

Quelle Chris feat. Navy Blue: “So Tired You Can’t Stop Dreaming“

A standout from one of Paste’s favorite May albums, Quelle Chris’ DEATHFAME, Navy Blue collaboration “So Tired You Can’t Stop Dreaming” was the album’s final single prior to release. Beautiful piano keys open up the introspective world built by Quelle and Navy, aided only by sparse drums to let the two rappers shine. They go back and forth reflecting on the duality of their lives, brought home by the song’s hard-hitting outro: “Heaven’s got a ghetto / Hell’s got a resort.” Navy’s whirlwind lyricism full of alliteration and vivid pictures of his life mesh perfectly with Quelle’s more abstract, conceptual approach, as the two come together like a collaborative dream team. —Jade Gomez

Sky Ferreira: “Don’t Forget“

It’s been nine years—in other words, a lifetime—since Sky Ferreira released her decade-best 2013 debut album, Night Time, My Time, and three years since her last proper solo single, 2019’s “Downhill Lullaby.” But today is a new day, and Ferreira is back with “Don’t Forget,” described in a press release as “a tantalizing glimpse into her forthcoming album Masochism.” Ferreira co-produced “Don’t Forget” alongside her longtime collaborator Jorge Elbrecht (Ariel Pink), recording at Capitol’s historic Studio B in Hollywood, California. Like “Downhill Lullaby” before it, “Don’t Forget” demonstrates that Ferreira hasn’t lost her flair for dramatic, effortlessly elaborate pop music. But where that 2019 track was dark, dissonant and orchestral, “Don’t Forget” is a stylish and immediate synth-pop jam that masks a vengeful intensity. Horns and huge floor toms set the stage for a syncopated dance beat that Ferreira bobs and weaves around, making a kind of peace with the apocalypse: “Tears of fire in the sky / Makes me feel good to be alive,” she sings, swearing in the choruses, “Oh no, I won’t forget / I don’t forgive.” A cyclone of electronic noise and guitar distortion swirls as Ferreira, larger than life, towers over any misfortune that dares cross her path: “It’s such a raw deal world / I don’t need to deceive you, I am the real bad girl.” —Scott Russell

Tony Molina: “The Last Time“

Bay Area guitar-pop maverick Tony Molina has announced In the Fade, his first new album under his own name in four years, coming Aug. 12 via Summer Shade, a new Run for Cover Records imprint curated by Madison Woodward (Fury, Object of Affection). At 18 minutes, the record is Molina’s longest yet, and it “offers something from every phase of his catalog, almost like a Tony Molina greatest hits, except with all new songs,” per press materials. Molina went about fitting those different sounds together exactly how you’d expect: “The main thing I was trying to tie everything together with was just really good melodies for the entire record, all the way through,” he says. Lead single “The Last Time” evokes early, Dissed and Dismissed-era Molina more than it does the lighter touch of his last album, 2018’s Kill the Lights. Thin Lizzy-esque guitar harmonies bookend the track, 84 seconds of fuzzed-out power-pop in which Molina’s narrator swears off a flawed relationship, but harbors doubts about what kind of life he’ll lead without it—all conveyed in the space of a single four-line verse. ”’Cause when I tell her that I need her / Will she still judge me for who I am?” he wonders over power-chord thrum, his uncertainty soon supplanted by the song’s return to riff-rock nirvana. —Scott Russell

Listen to our Best Songs of May 2022 playlist on Spotify here.