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, with some 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.
HAIM, Women In Music Pt. III
Something got lost on Something To Tell You, HAIM’s anticipated follow-up to 2013’s Days Are Gone. The squeaky clean production, the pristine harmonies, the smooth edges—the hooks hit hard, but they felt assembled by algorithm. Nobody would call HAIM “gritty,” but part of the “The Wire” and “Falling”’s appeal was that their sky-high choruses resonated as much in a garage as a stadium. Women in Music Pt. III immediately announces itself as something different with the drunken horns and lo-fi vibe of “Los Angeles,” a bouncy, tear-stained ode to its namesake that sets the stage for the 15 fuzzy, emotionally daring songs that follow. Songs like “I Know Alone” and “All That Ever Mattered” show off a starker side of the band, while “3 AM” and “Another Try” find them broadening their pop palate with R&B rhythms. It’s a sprawling LP, honestly, one that would probably have been sliced and diced under different circumstances, but its loose harmonies, bedroom strums, and general sense of unfussiness are what make it such an interesting and impactful entry in the band’s output. [Randall Colburn]
Japandroids, Massey Fucking Hall
[ANTI-, June 19]
The sound of Japandroids’ indie/garage rock becomes all the more muscular when heard in a live setting, far from a recording studio. They’re one of my favorite live acts—over the years, I’ve seen them at Metro and the Vic in Chicago. With its ample seating, the latter venue is somewhat similar (though maybe not considered as iconic) to Toronto’s Massey Hall, which served as one of the stops on the band’s 2017 tour. Massey Fucking Hall is a collection of recordings from that epic show, which was also a personal milestone of sorts for Canadian bandmates Brian King and David Prowse. The live album courses with adrenaline and more than a little nostalgia, the band’s transportive tracks like “Younger Us” taking me back to the days when I was always on the floor of the Metro instead of in the seats at the Vic. [Danette Chavez]
Jessie Ware, What’s Your Pleasure?
Press “play” on any song from What’s Your Pleasure?, and suddenly you’re floating a few inches off the ground. On her fourth studio album, Jessie Ware gets her groove back with a euphoric record that soothes just as much as it tantalizes. Working closely with producer James Ford (of Simian Mobile Disco), the musician cheekily recalls the ’70s—bouncing bass riffs, cascading synths, and strings that cut right through the discotheque—for a throwback sound that nevertheless feels timeless. Having previously shown off her ballad-belting bonafides, What’s Your Pleasure? is a testament to Ware’s vocal dexterity, maintaining her signature soulfulness even on the album’s more club-ready tracks. Said tracks, like “Soul Control” and “Save A Kiss,” are shimmering, modern disco fantasias, and rightfully earn Ware a place alongside Robyn in the hall of dancefloor divas. By following her pleasure principle, Jessie Ware has created an escapist delight that will ensure no one’s left dancing on their own. [Cameron Scheetz]
Becca Mancari, The Greatest Part
Becca Mancari wastes little time getting as raw as possible. “I remember the first time my dad didn’t hug me back,” goes her opening line of “First Time,” and things only get more personal from there. The Greatest Part, her sophomore album, is a significant evolution of the Nashville artist’s sound; while she still delivers gentle Americana roots-rock, paired to her cutting and confessional lyrics, she incorporates skittering synths, St. Vincent-like grooves punctuated by jagged interruptions, and pulsing electronic beats to land somewhere between a country-fried Sharon Van Etten and a more art-damaged Joni Mitchell. Upbeat numbers like “Lonely Boy” are inevitably matched by aching ballads like “Tear Us Apart” (which erupts into an orchestral wash halfway through) as the record slowly accumulates sounds and emotions like its gathering memories and moods for an auditory diary. “I’m sorry, I’m not dead yet,” she offers on one song, and it cuts more brutally than any putdown ever could. [Alex McLevy]
The phrase “new Stray Kids track” can mean just about anything from a triumphant house jaunt like “Miroh” to a breezy pop-EDM respite like “Get Cool.” The singular through-line that connects all of the South Korean pop-rock-hip-hop amalgam’s music is the distinct personality that imbues each effort. From the first hint of the group’s near-signature low brass,“God’s Menu” hits hard with an immediate surge of energy that continues to build with each passing verse. Though the track leads the group’s first full-length album, GO LIVE, Stray Kids have spent the past two years establishing their versatility and command of experimental pop. In a way, “God’s Menu” doubles as a reintroduction of a band that is ready to serve up just about anything (which they essentially confirm in the track’s lyrics) with a gusto as unique as their gritty delivery. Armed with a rather fitting culinary concept, the song is a sonic platter of what guides Stray Kids’ success as a group—in part, a steady blend of boisterous production and pure guts. [Shannon Miller]