There’s a lot of music out there. To help you cut through all the noise, every week The A.V. Club is rounding up A-Sides, five recent releases we think are worth your time. You can listen to these and more on Spotify.
Cate Le Bon, Reward
Spend a year in isolation and you’re bound to go a little stir-crazy. Nestled in a Cumbria mountainside, Cate Le Bon turned 365 days of solitude and woodworking into Reward, a complex album bursting with musical surrealism. By gluing herself to a piano instead of a guitar, the art-pop polymath found a new way to lay her thoughts bare. It’s easy to be smitten with a simple number like “Here It Comes Again,” but the fun of Reward is indulging in absurdities, like drunken baroque-pop parties “Mother’s Mother’s Magazines” and “Home To You.” Even when Le Bon scales back, it’s the eccentric additions that are the most charming: the harpsichord-like synth in “Miami,” the wooden chirping of a guiro in “Magnificent Gestures,” and the soft whine of guitar slides in “Sad Nudes.” With the help of some friends—Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa, singer-songwriter H. Hawkline—and some squeaky saxophone, Le Bon sounds refreshingly weird on Reward by leaving both her comfort zone and zip code. [Nina Corcoran]
Flying Lotus, Flamagra
“With a running time of over an hour, Flamagra is packed with left-field cameos and rangy interludes. Tierra Whack commands ‘Yellow Belly’ with a gloriously weird appearance that shifts from a sashaying chorus to absurdist rhymes. ‘My shoes are untied… there I go tripping,’ she speaks in an off-kilter voice. For ‘Black Balloons Reprise,’ Denzel Curry sounds off in his unmistakably stiff, stentorian flow over an orchestral flip of ‘Ten Et Tiwa’ from Alain Goraguer’s La Planète Sauvage. The David Lynch spoken-word piece ‘Fire Is Coming’ has already made the rounds, and though it feels a bit like stunt casting, it adds to Flamagra’s unpredictable oddball flow. To be sure, there are a handful of moments of instrumental whimsy—like when ‘Capillaries’ slumps and bumps like a spaceship cruising through the cosmos—that remind you of Flying Lotus’ early coronation as a king of beat loops. However, creativity seems to pique when a vocalist enters the frame, whether it’s Anderson Paak sounding off over the lovelorn nu-funk melody of ‘More,’ or Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon soaring over the achingly beautiful electro-pop of ‘Spontaneous.’”
Read Mosi Reeves’ full-length review of Flamagra right here.
Petrol Girls, Cut & Stitch
It’s easy at first to miss the depths lurking within Petrol Girls’ wall-of-noise aesthetic. “I think about the power of sound, and how we might use it,” singer Ren Aldridge muses as the album opens, before the blitzkrieg of “The Sound” ruptures speakers, hardcore pounding melded to the ambitious instrumentation of Stnnng or White Lung. But soon, the layers start to reveal themselves: jagged post-punk of the sort practiced by June Of 44 or Mogwai; rolling, muscular rhythms of math-rock precision; surprisingly melodic vocal patterns intertwining with the music as often as Aldridge’s fiery cry soars above it all; even muted exercises in tension like “Rootless,” which evokes nothing so much as Slint. Interspersed with spoken-word interludes and lyrics that join together feminist calls to arms from punk rock’s past and its uncertain present, Petrol Girls’ second album is a stunner, a bold and provocative slice of yell-along agitprop that refuses to sacrifice ambitious songwriting for its political message. Instead, the radicalism is total: lyrically, sonically, philosophically—a rare achievement in a punk band from any era. [Alex McLevy]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Megan Thee Stallion, Fever
There’s a very specific energy that moves through artists who are aware that their time has arrived. Megan Thee Stallion knows she has a verifiable hit with Fever, a debut album fueled by unabashed sexuality and laced with an indelible Houston spirit. What projects the most with each precisely delivered lyric—aside from a truly chameleonic flow—is the power Megan asserts with her first major-label effort. A lyricist who learned her craft under the tutelage of her late mother, Megan constructs each verse with biting clarity as she explores her unwavering confidence and agency. “Cash Shit,” for instance, is a track that could only believably come from a person who is in total charge of themselves: “He told ’em send me a pic ’cause he miss me / I told him send me a stack if he really / I don’t be trusting these tricks ’cause they tricky / Send him a pic of somebody else titties.” Fever delivers a couple fiery collaborations via Juicy J and DaBaby, but make no mistake: Megan Thee Stallion is a star. [Shannon Miller]
Pronoun, I’ll Show You Stronger
It’s shocking to discover that Alyse Vellturo is the sole force behind Pronoun, a loud, riff-heavy powerhouse with songs big enough to swallow an arena. Vellturo’s layered vocals are emotive and muscular, and her debut LP’s criss-crossing, reverb-heavy guitar lines dovetail with thick, enveloping synths and spine-rattling percussion. There’s a satisfying hint of ’90s FM rock on booming tracks like “Run” and “Temporary Tantrum,” but Vellturo’s songs amount to more than their riffs, pleasurable as they may be. Take “Wrong,” a Swiss watch of a song that clicks each of its moving parts into place so skillfully that it ripples with an infectious momentum. That sensation rings throughout I’ll Show You Stronger, an album that, despite its searching, anxious lyrics, nevertheless resonates as a propulsive sprint into the future. Closer “Everybody Knows,” for example, finds Vellturo “trying to make some sense of things I know deep down don’t make any” against harmonies that ascend like rockets, symbolizing the indelible blend of joy and terror with which we approach the not-knowing. [Randall Colburn]