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.
Elvis Costello, Hey Clockface
While some of our rock legends are returning to form (like Springsteen’s Letter To You), others, like Elvis Costello, are taking more of a “give no fucks” attitude: His latest release Hey Clockface is eclectic, to put it mildly. Costello recorded some tracks solo in a studio in Helsinki, like the anarchist rage of “No Flag” and the pointed, remorseful ballad “We Are All Cowards Now.” He then travelled to Paris to record with an ensemble to record the rest, making songs like “I Do (Zula’s Song)” and “The Whirlwind,” which sound like they could fit right in on a Sinatra record, evoking a smoky, deserted after-hours blues bar with Costello’s heartfelt vocals front and center. The cheery title track, by contrast, goes the opposite tonal route, right into spirited New Orleans jazz. While the off-kilter spoken-word cuts like “Revolution #49” or experimental multitracks of “Hetty O’Hara Confidential” may not be for everyone, there’s a lot of joy to be discerned from this record, as it documents a longtime artist who’s managed to find unlikely and disparate inspiration in troubled times. [Gwen Ihnat]
Malia Civetz, The Flip
After first breaking out in 2017 with “Champagne Clouds,” Malia Civetz has emerged with her debut EP, The Flip. Equal parts Estele and Adele, Civetz’s rich and powerful rasp sits easily atop all six of the EP’s diverse tracks—from “Broke Boy” (a soul-pop track with Motown tinges that is overtly sex-positive yet somehow also topped the Radio Disney chart) to the quarter-life crisis midtempo offering “25.” Her latest single, the intimate “The High,” is worthwhile, but Civetz’s best work (particularly the ’80s-inspired “Disrespectful”) has yet to get the single treatment. As a fan of everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Earth, Wind & Fire, it’s clear Civetz—who got to perform for Obama at the White House and opened for Jojo on tour in 2018—is having fun exploring all areas of her musical personality, and that energy is infectious as you listen along. [Patrick Gomez]
Eels, Earth To Dora
A concept album of sorts, Eels’ 13th LP loosely chronicles the rise and fall of a relationship, encapsulating the infatuation, frustration, and devastation that befalls all doomed lovers. One might expect a healthy dose of said doom from Mark Oliver Everett, a songwriter who’s never shied from the dark and dramatic, but Earth To Dora is stirring and heartfelt, filled with relatable reflections and swooning melodies. “I got hurt, so what, that’s just how it goes,” he croons on “OK,” a song that finds our narrator on the other side of grief, musing on personal growth and hard-fought emotional maturity. Most breakup albums end with the breakup, but Earth To Dora lets us see the next beginning—the courage it takes to peel the bandages from a wounded heart. [Randall Colburn]
Hot Chip feat. Jarvis Cocker, “Straight To The Morning”
May the current, boisterous wave of disco vibes that has crashed the pop and house scenes continue to gain momentum. Synth-pop outfit Hot Chip continues this blessed emergence with “Straight To The Morning,” a Dua Lipa-inspired dance track that celebrates the type of late-night carousing that’s been paused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Britpop luminary Jarvis Cocker offers his appropriately haunting vocals to add a strangely immersive texture to the funky single. In a much fairer world, “Straight To The Morning” would resonate as a thumping call-to-action (and it technically still could, if you’re planning an rousing overnight like the girls in the song’s video). For now, it’s a poetic artifact of Before Times, especially for collaborators in question: This was Cocker’s last music session just before lockdown was enacted, making it a fitting sendoff to the carefree days of packed, sweaty dance clubs and uninhibited nights out. At the very least, spinning this kaleidoscopic bop will bring back some of that feeling as well as give us something to look forward to. [Shannon Miller]
Andrew Bird, Hark!
[Loma Vista, October 30]
Andrew Bird’s Hark! is the musical gift that keeps on giving—released in November 2019 as an EP, the album has been expanded to 13 tracks, including what the whistling virtuoso and his team have dubbed “the first COVID-inspired Christmas song.” Through his signature strings and warbling, Bird captures the growing ache over the holidays on (said pandemic-inspired track) “Christmas In April,” wondering just when “will we know if we can meet under the mistletoe?” The rest of Hark!’s new additions are just as poignant and rich, from Bird’s cover of John Cale’s “Andalucia” to “Greenwine,” a “Greensleeves”-infused reworking of The Handsome Family’s “So Much Wine” (Bird-heads will recall that the Fargo actor previously covered the song on Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of….). As befits the current spirit of the season, “Greenwine” is just a smidge more lugubrious, with a sparer arrangement. But the latest edition of Hark! still boasts plenty of cheer on the rollicking “Souvenirs” and “Christmas Is Coming” (the Peanuts-inspired track released last year.) My annual tradition of attending Bird’s Gezelligheid concert series may be interrupted, but Hark! is the next best thing. [Danette Chavez]