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.
You can read our featured review of the new Lucinda Williams album here.
Car Seat Headrest, Making A Door Less Open
In the press rollout for Making A Door Less Open—Car Seat Headrest’s first original album since Teens Of Denial—Will Toledo sports a gas mask, an eerie move in the time of COVID-19. But Toledo insists the fashion choice was a matter of apocalyptic coincidence: It’s both a cover for the admittedly shy musician, and a way to fully embrace a larger-than-life rock star persona. That dichotomy is at the heart of his band’s latest, a raucous record both pitched to the rafters and more introspective than ever before. Collaborating with drummer Andrew Katz and their electronic side project 1 Trait Danger, the band uses its lo-fi garage rock as a foundation, layering on synthesizers and rhythmic beats to craft soaring anthems like “Hollywood” that steer the band into LCD Soundsystem territory. But even with an amped-up, more confident sound, the confessional, earnest lyrics point to a musician still fretting over the right thing to say. With Making A Door Less Open, Car Seat Headrest asserts itself as the anxious rock band for these paranoid times. [Cameron Scheetz]
Sylvan Esso, WITH
It’s been three years since Sylvan Esso released a new studio album, and fans are eager for new material. But WITH, the surprise live album the duo just dropped, at times so radically reinterprets the band’s catalog, it may as well be a new record. Assembling a 10-person group made up of their favorite musicians (including performers with Wye Oak, Bon Iver, and Hand Habits), Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn retool their electronic thumpers into aching soul ballads, slinky jazz-bop grooves, funky rave-ups—even a little ’80s yacht rock makes it into the mix. This expanded version of the band then performed a series of dates in November last year—from which this record, recorded at the Durham, North Carolina show, was taken. From start to finish, the hour-plus set serves as a soundtrack to the live concert film of the same name, also just released on YouTube. (The film is equally absorbing, interspersing tracks from the set with revealing interviews.) Fans will find excellent new interpretations of songs like “Die Young,” “HSKT,” and “Dreamy Bruises,” while those who think they had the group pegged will discover an expansive new sonic palette as compelling as anything that’s come before. [Alex McLevy]
Melenas, Días Raros
Flights are grounded all over and hotels are sitting empty, but you can still go on a vacation in your mind with a little help from Melenas. Hailing from Pamplona, Spain, this four-piece specializes in a sunny blend of jangly, fuzzy, surf-influenced guitar rock and groovy late ’60s harmonics—like the high organ vibrations on “El Tiempo Ha Pasado.” Played at midtempo, the effect is hypnotic and kaleidoscopic, like the swirl of color behind your eyelids when you squeeze them tight on a bright summer afternoon. Sped up a bit, it suddenly becomes the soundtrack for the best retro sci-fi TV series you’ve never seen, an aesthetic the group consciously cultivates as the bubblegum pep of lead single “Tres Segundos” bleeds into the jerky rhythms and sweet harmonies of “Ciencia Ficción.” Dancing on the beach with crab monsters and tokusatsu robots as the sky explodes with psychedelic color behind you? Sounds like the perfect escape from another gray afternoon indoors. [Katie Rife]
Caleb Landry Jones, The Mother Stone
It’s not much of a surprise to hear a famous actor’s been strumming a guitar off-camera, but the debut album from Caleb Landry Jones is no Dogstar. The Mother Stone is more than an hour’s worth of woozy, carnivalesque psychedelia, an album that at first listen seems nearly undone by its obvious odes to Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles. Strung together with no clear breaks, the LP oscillates between tooting brass, romantic strings, and drunken woodwinds, with Jones’ electric guitar occasionally clearing a path for his Lennon-esque vocals, which sometimes coarsen into a harsh bark. It’s tough to pinpoint singular moments of beauty, stitched together as they are, but it’s hard to ignore the carnivalesque vintage of opener “Flag Day/The Mother Stone” and the swooning “I Want To Love You” sounds like a heart in free fall. The sheer indulgence of it all may be a turnoff for some, but the album’s unrestrained nature feels in step with Jones’ kinetic, unpredictable presence, which he’s flaunted in everything from Get Out to Twin Peaks. [Randall Colburn]
Diet Cig, Do You Wonder About Me?
Maybe it’s that sense of guileless wonder, that unassuming openness to the fundamental joy of making music, that makes Diet Cig’s new album such a perfect fusion of sound and subject matter. An ode to the transition from childhood to adulthood, Do You Wonder About Me? manages the difficult feat of markedly improving production values without losing the sense of scrappy indie authenticity that made 2017’s Swear I’m Good At This such an engaging listen. Songs like “Thriving” and “Night Terrors” retain both the soaring retro indie-rock hooks and singer-guitarist Alex Luciano’s lyrical knack for combining the fey and the frustrated, riding a fine line between hopeful innocence and jaded fearfulness that feels as honest as ever. But there’s an expanded instrumentation lending an extra charge, with washes of synths adding to “Broken Body” and syncopated electronic burbles driving home “Staring Into The Sun.” Moving from intimate acoustic tracks to anthemic fist-pumpers, Diet Cig has managed to evolve into an even more compelling act without losing that magically infectious enthusiasm that sets it apart from so many others making similar music. [Alex McLevy]