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.
Frances Quinlan, Likewise
[Saddle Creek, January 31]
When Frances Quinlan announced her debut solo album, Likewise, there was some surprise given that her main band, Hop Along, was originally launched as her solo project. But listening to Likewise, though it bares her distinct songwriting mark, it largely eschews the guitar-based foundation so many of Quinlan’s songs have been built upon with Hop Along. Instead, Likewise sees Quinlan forming songs around synthesizers and drum machines, allowing her voice to fill in the gaps they create and offer a more textural, intimate experience throughout. When her guitar playing is brought to the forefront, as it is on “Went To LA,” Quinlan offers up one of the most impressive vocal runs of her career, closing the track with a show-stopper moment that’ll have you playing it back over and over again. [David Anthony]
Wild Nothing, Laughing Gas
[Captured Tracks, January 31]
Nearly a decade after the release of its sensational debut LP, Gemini, Wild Nothing, essentially the one-man band of Jack Tatum, continues to tug gently at the bounds of its trademark synth/jangle-pop hybrid on the Laughing Gas EP to spectacular results. This is no mere stop-gap record of throwaways, despite being conceived during the making of 2018’s Indigo. It’s a singular achievement, recorded during a new session last year by Tatum with producer Jorge Elbrecht (Ariel Pink, Violens, Lansing-Dreiden). Textured guitar squalls blend seamlessly with womblike electronic gurgles on the likes of “Sleight Of Hand” and “Foyer.” Closer “The World Is A Hungry Place” is even augmented by a surprisingly tasteful sax arrangement, neatly side-stepping odious yacht-rock territory. And like this entire record, it exhibits Wild Nothing’s ability to subtly expand its sonic palette without sacrificing what makes it so damn great—songwriting. [John Everhart]
Sløtface, Sorry For The Late Reply
Norwegian political pop-rock quartet Sløtface has evolved since its 2017 debut, Try Not To Freak Out. Follow-up Sorry For The Late Reply is darker—there are only a few genuine barn-burners here, a literal change of pace—but the band’s push into more mid-tempo rock pays dividends. Sure, the earworm immediacy of “Telepathetic” or “Passport” still makes for a perfect sugar rush that doesn’t fade with repeated listens, but tracks like “Static,” with its jagged club groove, or ballad “New Year, New Me,” with its mournful honesty, are welcome additions to the group’s otherwise ebullient sound. Singer Haley Shea’s vocals remain a clever blend of incensed activist anger and naked confession, and aside from the misstep of lead track “S.U.C.C.E.S.S.” (which sacrifices her knack for melody for shouty theatrics), the record is a compelling coming-of-age document: living in a time of global crisis while still dealing with the same youthful bullshit. Mixing soulful post-punk into Sløtface’s frenetic pop stew turns out to be a winning recipe. [Alex McLevy]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Dan Deacon, Mystic Familiar
[Domino Recording Co., January 31]
A month after Dan Deacon released 2015’s Gliss Riffer, the album’s “When I Was Done Dying” video went viral. The animated clip, which loosely depicted a corpse pulsing through natural and extraterrestrial environments to symbolize anxiety, directly informs follow-up Mystic Familiar. Throughout the LP, which abounds with nature-based song titles, Deacon reckons with his nerves, strips his voice of digital effects, and advances the dismembered frenzy of Gliss Riffer while faintly recalling the chirping moshes of his 2007 breakthrough, Spiderman Of The Rings. His amorphous, unfiltered melancholia equally pervades the hypersonic whirl of “Arp II: Float Away,” the starry-eyed piano bounce of “Become A Mountain,” and the mournfully spasming “Sat By A Tree.” The latter track comes with another corpse video and a request that’s easy after hearing Mystic Familiar: “If when I die you think of me, think of my best first.” [Max Freedman]
[Merge, January 22]
Katie Crutchfield is back with another Waxahatchee record. “Fire,” the first single from St. Cloud—named after her father’s Florida hometown, and written after getting sober—signals a glowing new direction for the Alabama-born songwriter. Crutchfield has said “Fire” is “meant to be a bit of a personal pep talk. If I can love myself unconditionally, then I can move through the world a little easier.” And aptly, the song’s easy gait, head-nodding bass riff, and soft synth create a vibe akin to the moment sunlight blankets the world after a storm has rolled out. While the first single might be named after the most destructive classical element, the record’s sound generally shares more in common with air—it feels breezily triumphant, sometimes nearly weightless, like a burden has been lifted, even when it’s clear that weightlessness was hard-earned. St. Cloud, out March 27, has a silver lining. [Matt Williams]