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 our Spotify playlist, and if you like what you hear, we encourage you to purchase featured artists’ music directly at the links provided below.
Bob Dylan hasn’t released an album of original material in nearly eight years, but his outtake single “Murder Most Foul” offers an EP-length extension of his 2012 Tempest LP—in the shape of a single 17-minute song, possibly his longest. His chronicle of the 1963 Kennedy assassination places it alongside Tempest’s title track as a gently kaleidoscopic rumination on history. The difference here is that Dylan has first-person experience, watching as the killing reverberates for basically the entire length of his career. Despite its sinister title, “Murder” is a musically gentle affair, with elegiac piano and strings beneath an unforced speak-sing from the master of gravelly rasp. His litany of pop culture allusions (from the Beatles to Nightmare On Elm Street) culminate in a beautiful fifth verse, where he turns 20th century history into an epic series of playlist requests, mournfully easing us into the uncertain world beyond. [Jesse Hassenger]
Remember the first time you heard “Cannonball” by The Breeders, when Kim Deal’s coarse humming and Josephine Wiggs’ anticipatory bassline teased the incoming classic? Expect to relive that experience when you hear PITH. On their second album, Chicago noise pop band Melkbelly manage to get louder and quieter simultaneously, a trick that makes you turn up the volume despite already feeling the guitars reverberate in your bones. The four-piece melts down traditional chord progressions instead of avoiding them altogether and goads tempos like thrill-seekers tampering with electrical sockets. The result is unexpected and hot to the touch, like the seven-minute delirium “Kissing Under Some Bats.” From the blistering punk of “LCR” to the blown-out harmonies in “Take H20,” Melkbelly carry themselves with an enviable sense of subversion, like they’re looking into a warped mirror of The Breeders’ sardonic melodies and coy singing. At least PITH warns you up top with “THC” that you’re in for a ride. [Nina Corcoran]
The tropicalia-funk-soul fusion of Chicano Batman gets a bit of a redirection from Shawn Everett and producer Leon Michels on the upcoming album Invisible People. You can hear the influence of Everett, who’s worked with Alabama Shakes and Kacey Musgraves, in the airy percussion and vocals of “Color My Life.” But “Pink Elephant,” the second single from Invisible People, really sits in Eduardo Arenas’ bass groove, summoning staccato bursts from Gabriel Villa’s snares. Lead singer Bardo Martinez shows off a slinky, Anthony Kiedis-like energy in the video of the live session recorded at the storied Barefoot Studios in Hollywood. Where “Color My Life” offers a laidback vibe, “Pink Elephant” is the kind of thumping track you throw on once your party is in full swing. They’re both rays of sunshine, though—and, if we’re ever riding around in our cars with the windows down again, the perfect musical accompaniment for summer cruising. [Danette Chavez]
Joseph D’Agostino has been pretty quiet since the dissolution of his excellent (and rarely quiet) band Cymbals Eat Guitars a few years back. But fans of that band’s emotionally searing, often jarring indie rock won’t be disappointed with D’Agostino’s full-length debut as Empty Country. It’s not a massive departure by any stretch: The singer-guitarist (and in this case, most everything else) still delivers his carefully crafted words with a desperation that always feels ready to crack but never quite does. Tracks like “Emerald” or the gorgeous “Chance” work, like so much of what he’s done, as either a pleasant indie-rock jam or an engrossing short story. That’s never truer than on Empty Country’s epic closer, “SWIM,” which—in Nebraska-era Springsteen fashion—recounts the tale of a down-on-his-luck con who “got a tattoo on my ribcage / of the second plane hitting / had it done while I was doing time up in Ossining.” If that sounds anachronistic in 2020, don’t fear: It’s mixed with exactly the right energy to make it fully believable. [Josh Modell]
With BRAT, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, the Chicago artist otherwise known as NNAMDÏ, channels not only the peripatetic nature of today’s increasingly elastic pop landscape, but also an ecstatic joy, a kaleidoscopic soundscape pulsing with self-discovery. “Everyday I feel a change in me,” he sings on “Everyone I Love,” which thrillingly reflects its themes with a number of surprising flourishes: hip-hop flows, ghosts of guitar, a foggy storm of classical piano. “Perfect In My Mind,” meanwhile, finds Ogbonnaya luxuriating in complex math-emo via the guitar, an instrument he eschewed on 2017’s DROOL. What binds these diverse tracks is an outpouring of personality—Ogbonnaya is amiable on the playful “Gimme Gimme,” empathetic on “It’s OK,” and angry as fuck on “Semantics,” which culminates with a frothing climax bound to give you goosebumps. BRAT, a major work from a wildly talented new artist, is as much an emotional journey as a sonic one. [Randall Colburn]