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 Spotify.
Mannequin Pussy, Patience
Over the past couple years, countless bands from the worlds of punk and indie-rock have embraced their pop side, pivoting away from big riffs and screamed vocals for something a little more tempered and glossy. It’s a move that’s worked for some, but it’s also made rock bands feel increasingly generic, less propelled by their own intentions and instead by the changing tides of pop culture. When Mannequin Pussy released “Drunk II” as the first single from third album Patience, it was cleanly polished in a way the band had never been before, but it had memorable guitar lines and a show-stopping chorus, the kind that made this stylistic departure feel welcome instead of cause for concern. Listening to Patience, Mannequin Pussy expertly bounces between truly infectious pop-rock songs (“Drunk II,” “Who You Are”) while still writing material that wouldn’t feel out of place at a dingy basement show (“Clams,” “F.U.C.A.W.”). These disparate sounds never feel out of place next to one another, and it suggests that Mannequin Pussy isn’t following the trends, but finding ways to evolve without losing the perspective that’s always made it feel so special. [David Anthony]
Mark Ronson, Late Night Feelings
Mark Ronson calls his new post-divorce release Late Night Feelings “a break-up record full of ‘sad bangers’ that came in the wake of certain events in my life… inspired & held together by my own formidable heartbreak.” Like many before him, Ronson decided to work through his heartache via music, with help from singers like Miley Cyrus, Lykke Li, and Alicia Keys as positive muses combatting the record’s negative inspiration. Yebba’s fierce vocals belie the vulnerability of “Don’t Leave Me Lonely”; she also transmits Ronson’s rebellious credo “everything I’m gonna do’s gonna be all right” in “When U Went Away.” Cyrus’ country strength steers “Nothing Breaks Like A Heart,” while Alicia Keys gets a similarly impressive showcase for her talents in orchestral club track “Truth” (helped by The Last Artful, Dodgr). Same goes for the sentimental pop synths of Angel Olsen’s buoyant “True Blue,” and Diane Gordon’s retro-soul-steeped “Why Hide.” The breakup theme unites the record impressively throughout these myriad voices and genres; too bad about Ronson’s divorce, but pop music is reaping the benefits. [Gwen Ihnat]
Chelsea Wolfe, “The Mother Road”
Serpentine goth queen Chelsea Wolfe once again sheds her musical skin on “The Mother Road,” the lead single from Birth Of Violence, her upcoming sixth studio album. On her last record, 2017’s Hiss Spun, Wolfe pivoted toward a harsher, more metallic sound; for “The Mother Road,” she reinvents herself once again as a doom-folk earth goddess. The lyrics, evoking natural cycles of birth, suffering, and death—“I do not have a child / But I’m old enough to know some pain,” Wolfe sings—reinforce the pagan energy of the music itself, which opens with isolated vocals and strummed acoustic guitar à la PJ Harvey before a chorus of pounding drums and luminous cymbals rolls in like a thunderstorm, punctuated by jolts of feedback-laden guitar literally crackling with electricity. While the music technically errs on the acoustic side, there’s nothing soft about Wolfe’s terrible and awe-inspiring invocation. [Katie Rife]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Floating Points, “LesAlpx”
Jesus, is it already possible to be nostalgic not just for the aughts, but for the decade’s latter half? We wouldn’t have thought so until we put on the new single by English electronic producer Floating Points. “LesAlpx” harks back to the twilight supernova of French house—when Ed Banger Records, Justice, and Vitalic’s riffy electro reigned—as well as the rubbery German tech house of Booka Shade and the starry Scandinavian minimalism of Lindstrøm. Then again, that’s when Sam Shepherd started making house music as Floating Points, so after spending some years paddling in more atmospheric ethers, it makes sense that he would return there. Head-clearing and floor-filling, “LesAlpx” is the textbook definition of back-to-basics, though there’s nothing academic about the bold, threshing groove that Shepherd throttles and filters, drains and saturates, so it growls and zaps around an irresistible giddy-up drum. The first time we hear a DJ abut this with “Like A G6,” we’re going to lose our shit. [Brian Howe]
Black Midi, Schlagenheim
Black Midi’s volatile 2018 Brixton live shows got so many people talking that, with just one recorded song to its name, the band inked a record deal with Rough Trade. Debut album Schlagenheim encapsulates the London foursome’s live mania: Frequent dynamic and tempo shifts, unconventional song structures, and sounds danceable, anxious, or aggressive (or sometimes all three) return unpredictability to rock music. On “Reggae,” whispers and jittery guitar lines build to sneering and six-string slashing, before collapsing into a shrieking, mosh-worthy breakdown. “Western” is innocuous enough until its arid placidity explodes into twanging tremolo and impossibly rapid drumming, which itself gradually transitions into an abrasive instrumental free-for-all. On “953,” an extended false start leads to a ferocious groove that’s later reprised in double-time. Schlagenheim proves that, both live and on record, there’s no telling what Black Midi will do next. [Max Freedman]