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5 new releases we love: Janelle Monáe's musical manifesto, Semisonic's return, and more

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Janelle Monáe in the “Turntables” video
Janelle Monáe in the “Turntables” video
Screenshot: YouTube (Other)

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.

Janelle Monáe, “Turntables

[Bad Boy, September 12]

We’ve already begun to find ourselves inundated with artistry emphasizing our need to vote in this upcoming election, but few results will likely match the earnest fire and hope that Janelle Monáe exudes with every track. “Turntables” is the latest melodic call to action from a forward-thinking performer who has been boldly political since Metropolis: The Chase Suite. The rap-driven track is also largely a warning shot, informing those who have fueled a racist, unjust regime that a serious shift is on the horizon. Outfitted with Monáe’s cool delivery and a chorus that pulsates with recognizable urgency, “Turntables” benefits from pendulating energy that encapsulates both the need for a significant change in our country and the assurance that it will come at the hands of the people who demand it. [Shannon Miller]


Fenne Lily, Breach

[Dead Oceans, September 18]

It’s become cliché to observe that any meaningful art seems to speak directly to our current predicament, but Fenne Lily has a better claim to it than most: The English singer and guitarist wrote most of Breach, her second album, during a self-enforced period of isolation in Berlin, long before COVID-19 forced the rest of us into it. The resulting music captures a hopefulness borne of solitude, while still acknowledging the messy emotional see-saws that can attend to the rest of our lives. Those who fell in love with her self-released debut will find plenty of familiar themes—relationship anguish has rarely been captured with such lacerating rawness as on “Birthday” and “I Used To Hate My Body But Now I Just Hate You”—but much of the record finds Lily looking inwards, while supplanting her spare, Joni Mitchell-esque guitar work with strings and airy harmonies. And some of the best moments are when she pushes past her usual slow, spare beauty, delivering driving beats on “Alapathy” and the slacker rock groove of “Solipsism.” Through it all, her gentle, almost whispered vocals evoke visions of wonder and introspection, beckoning listeners to join her somewhere a little better than here. [Alex McLevy]


Semisonic, You’re Not Alone

[September 18, Pleasuresonic Recordings]

Dan Wilson has had an extremely successful (read: Grammy-winning) post-Semisonic career, writing songs for everyone from Adele and The DIxie Chicks. But now, a few decades later, he’s back with former bandmates John Munson and Jacob Schlicter to release a new five-song Semisonic EP. Opener “You’re Not Alone” is as radio-ready as “Closing Time,” the kind of hook-filled pop confection at which Wilson excels, with a stirring, consoling message for the current rocky times. Munson takes over with his velvety vocals on “All It Would Take,” before Wilson looks back in “Basement Tapes,” a fun, nostalgia-steeped look at band days spent road-tripping and crashing on couches throughout the Midwest, “living the Big Star dream.” But he’s looking forward in “Lightning” and “Don’t Make Up Your Mind,” dealing with the relationship troubles that come along after years together, after the first rush of love has long faded. Wilson pulls out all his songwriting skills for wooing purposes in these later-in-life love pop songs, asking, “It was magical then / So why can’t we have magic again?” He could ask the same question about Semisonic’s career, where it seems that lightning can indeed strike twice, even after almost 20 years. [Gwen Ihnat]

Told Slant, “Family Still”/“No Backpack

[Double Double Whammy, September 15]

Felix Walworth’s music as Told Slant is comfortingly offbeat, as unvarnished and vulnerable as it is structurally surprising. “Family Still” and “No Backpack,” the songs introducing Point The Flashlight And Walk—Slant’s first new LP in four years—are no different, with Walworth’s plainspoken poetry working in tandem with spare, evocative instrumentation. Meant to be listened to in succession, the tracks wrestle with contradictory concepts of devotion, be it familial, romantic, or otherwise. And, much like the arpeggios coursing through both cuts, Walworth’s words take on different shapes throughout—metaphors evolve into sad stories, questions fade without answers, and objects of affection get painted in intricate detail. But, for all their complexity, Walworth’s always been good at wrapping their themes in a single phrase, the kind fans long to scream in concert; “I don’t need your love at all” is up there with the best of them. [Randall Colburn]


Joe Wong, Nite Creatures

[September 18, Decca Records]

Chilly autumn winds have already begun to blow, but endless summer awaits all those who put Nite Creatures on their turntables. Still, while Joe Wong’s melodies go down like sweet strawberry wine, there’s a very personal vulnerability to the lyrics underneath the ecstatic psychedelia on this multi-instrumentalist’s solo debut. Perhaps that’s why his debut single “Dreams Wash Away” was featured on the Netflix series The Midnight Gospel—Wong’s music has a dreamy melancholy that’s highly appropriate for that show. Speaking of, up to this point, Wong has been best known for his work as a composer for the Netflix shows Master Of None and Russian Doll. But Nite Creatures, a 10-song set nine years in the making, sees Wong frolicking through lush fields of instrumentation layered with harps, horns, and Wong’s appropriately Lee Hazelwood-esque baritone. Fans of Sgt. Pepper’s, Pet Sounds, and Forever Changes take note—here’s one record, at least, that does it like they used to. [Katie Rife]