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.
Margo Price flirts with a handful of sounds on her latest record, including psychedelic guitars, rousing gospel choirs, and keyboards beamed in from a mall food court circa 1985. But these flourishes would be meaningless if they weren’t built on a foundation of solid songwriting, which Price delivers—particularly in the stunning three-song run of “Letting Me Down,” “Twinkle Twinkle,” and “Stone Me.” All three display classic songcraft reminiscent of Tom Petty and Steve Nicks, each with its own distinct sonic footprint. “Letting Me Down” offers up radio-ready country-rock hooks, while “Twinkle Twinkle” is crunchier than a bowl of sun-dried granola. And while “Stone Me” wraps its message—“Love me, hate me / Desecrate me / Call me a bitch, then call me baby / You don’t know me,” goes the chorus—in Price’s honeyed voice, its defiant spirit shines like a ray of sun through overcast skies. She may be a Nashville outsider, but That’s How Rumors Get Started proves that’s their loss, not Margo Price’s. [Katie Rife]
With their sophomore album, The Beths had one major task—prove that the ebullient magic of their debut LP, Future Me Hates Me, was no fluke. Luckily, the group went one better: Not only does Jump Rope Gazers retain the group’s addictive blend of sugar-coated indie-rock anthems, it deepens and enriches the songcraft in ways both expected and surprising. A big part of the band’s DNA has always been a fondness for the conventions and structures of ’60s pop-rock, and here they double down on that, with soaring harmonies on nearly every song that approach Beach Boy territory at times. They also expand their palette to include a straight-up ballad (“Do You Want Me Now”), ’70s glam-punk licks (album opener “I’m Not Getting Excited”), and even a gentle, percussion-free folk number (“You Are A Beam Of Light”). But through it all, the group’s knack for guitar-driven rock still leads the way, powered along by Elizabeth Stokes’ exceptional lyrics and consistently strong vocal melodies. They’ve gotten harder and gentler, all at once. [Alex McLevy]
You can feel Julianna Barwick’s music working on you, her wordless vocalizations teasing out tension like a masseuse. These songs, as layered as they are light, have long served to soothe and enrich, making Healing Is A Miracle an apt title for her latest LP of airy, dynamic New Age. There’s fresh flourishes here, like the crystalline twinkle of Mary Lattimore’s harp on “Oh, Memory,” or the percussive bombast and piercing falsetto that Sigur Rós’ Jónsi brings to “In Light.” But the album’s themes of emotional healing—it was created after Barwick sought to shed bygone “ghosts” by moving to Los Angeles—resonate most on meditative songs like “Safe” and “Nod,” which, in their rising and falling tides, evoke the deep breaths that bring us back to reality after gasping through the traumas of the past. [Randall Colburn]
As she prepares for the follow-up to her impressive debut EP, Finest Hour, Moroccan chanteuse Abir returns with a sound that blends her faithful, easygoing dance-pop sensibilities with her culture. As it turns out, the title of her newest release, “Inferno,” is rather on the nose: With its sexy R&B undertones, this fiery call simmers as an unrepentant summer jam while strings and Abir’s unrestrained vocals heighten the drama. Although she maintains the same confidence that characterized her previous title track, there is still a vulnerability that underscores the lyrics, which bid farewell to a dying love. That dichotomy—heartbreak and hip-swiveling Arab pop—culminate in a track that is as freeing as it is layered. “Inferno” also touts an addictive hook that genuinely soars, making it almost impossible to not sing along, ambitious high notes and all. [Shannon Miller]
After twenty-plus years, alterna-metal band Hum makes a welcome return; new album Inlet contains tidal waves of guitar assault and several-minutes-long tracks. Hum’s ferocity prevents Inlet from slipping into the atmospheric, even as a nine-minute song like “Desert Rambler” is a definite investment. But Inlet’s trek is decidedly insular, despite its lyrical journeys to myriad landscapes like mountainsides, summer leaves, or settlement fires—as “In The Den” puts it, “Lie on the grass here and be swallowed in.” Most tracks reference the band’s extended absence, the passage of time enabling an appreciation for what came before: “Step Into It” simultaneously casts a heartbreaking longing for a simpler time, and the hope that can be found in remembrance: “Remember when / We sought comfort in the sand / And moved on / Under trees that meant their shade for no one else.” That four-minute track is as hooky as the 2020 version of Hum is bound to get; the rest take their cue from plodding, Sabbath-like riffs, perfect for wallowing and wandering. [Gwen Ihnat]