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.
The sound of a band leveling up is a thrilling thing to hear—and it’s rare to hear such a perfectly executed evolution of a group’s output as Ratboys have achieved on Printer’s Devil, an early contender for one of the best albums of the year. The songs on this record not only improve upon their forebears from 2017’s GN; the artistic transformation occasionally makes it feel like a wholly different, more confident and creatively ambitious group is responsible. Sure, there’s still the gentle alt-country and snappy Americana vibes that undergird new tracks like “My Hands Grow” and “Victorian Slumhouse,” but they feel emboldened with new energy and pop-leaning structures. And it’s the bold, anthemic sound of barn-burners like opener “Alien With A Sleep Mask On” or the sing-along vibes of “Anj” that sound like a statement of purpose for this Chicago quartet. Singer-guitarist Julia Steiner’s lyrics have never been more evocative, or more relatable; Printer’s Devil is a thrilling achievement, a record that feels as large as an arena-ready musical manifesto, yet intimate as a best friend’s confession. [Alex McLevy]
Although Grae: Part 1 only represents 60 percent of Moses Sumney’s sophomore album (part two arrives May 15), its 12 songs are riveting enough to suggest that the full Grae will rank among 2020’s most exciting albums. Throughout Part 1, Sumney explodes the minimalist, falsetto-sprinkled folk of his 2017 debut LP, Aromanticism, into diverse, often maximalist directions—“Gagarin” is auto-tuned jazz, “Cut Me” is brass-speckled R&B, “Virile” is pounding rock—while using grayness to symbolize the meaning found in stepping outside binaries. “Conveyor” stutters and chops robotically as Sumney explores the gray area between individuality and groupthink, and on that track’s epilogue, “Boxes,” he argues that “dissatisfaction seems like the natural byproduct of identification” with binary extremes. On the flooring, Aromanticism-esque closer “Polly,” he navigates a newer gray area: that between wanting one and many lovers. With themes and sounds this pressing, the complete Grae is bound to delight. [Max Freedman]
Greg Dulli is an alt-rock O.G. Like Nick Cave before him, Dulli is a master of bombast and murder ballads. While on break from The Afghan Whigs, Dulli found himself writing and recording in Silver Lake and New Orleans. The result is Dulli’s first solo album, Random Desire. Whigs fans will dig the percussive guitars on “Sempre,” and the dramatic, distorted chorus on “The Tide.” Better still are the left turns. Dulli is no stranger to exploring R&B and pop music backdrops, and Random Desire’s best tracks have fewer elements of Dulli’s rock-driven past. “Marry Me” is quiet and smoky as a slide guitar reverberates, nearly feeding back, whining as Dulli sings, “I let you go.” “Scorpio” opens with a vocal hook that a group like OneRepublic would die to write. “It Falls Apart” is another stunner, opening up subtly in its chorus. “Slow Pan” features harp breaks and piano arpeggios. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Dulli released a solo album, inspired by his bandmates pursuing other projects, and possibly needing to grieve after the death of heroes like Prince and Whigs’ guitarist Dave Rosser. What still surprises is how Dulli willingly and successfully molds his personality to whatever style he wants. [Matt Sigur]
On Safe Sins’ penultimate track, “Parlor,” songwriter Augusta Koch—also of Philadelphia rockers Cayetana—pivots from one chorus to another, belting, “I’m happy,” over and over before transitioning to the more wistful “To be happy.” It’s a subtle, moving illustration of the thorny themes buried in Gladie’s debut LP, which Koch has described as a nonlinear exploration of grief’s complexities. Optimism shines through these vivid, searching anthems, but it manifests as the peripatetic mind operates, with spiraling, sometimes desperate mantras. “No, it can’t be that bad,” Koch repeats over and over on “Cosmic Joke,” a song that, like so many others on Safe Sins, resonates as an attempt to, through sheer force, barrel through the nihilism that’s so easy to fall back on in times of crisis. There’s a meditative quality to these 10 muscular tracks, which deftly weave a tenderness into its sharp, rowdy guitars. [Randall Colburn]
It’s hard to believe that a close personal friend of Michael McDonald could ever have problems with seduction, but Thundercat goes the self-deprecating route with “Dragonball Durag,” the second single off of his upcoming album, It Is What It Is. The song struts with the hard-earned confidence of a man who knows his comic book collection is sexy: “I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good,” the nerd-funk master croons with deadpan wit, belting out quirky falsetto harmonies over shoulder-shimmying bass. But the goofball swagger of the single doesn’t help Thundercat much in the accompanying lo-fi video directed by comedian Zack Fox, where Thundercat’s red silk shorts, Vegeta pendant, moonwalking skills, and—most importantly—Dragon Ball Z durag aren’t enough to impress comedian Quinta Brunson, singer Kali Uchis, or the HAIM sisters. [Katie Rife]