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.
Recovering from major-label purgatory in 1998 (and vitriolically documented on 2001’s “The Agony Of Laffitte” single eviscerating A&R huckster Ron Laffitte), Spoon unexpectedly proceeded to craft a succession of sublime records. Everything Hits At Once: The Best Of Spoon is a treasure trove, ignoring their mid-’90s Matador years and Elektra era, yet veering wildly with locomotive intensity. Curdled and jagged on They Want My Soul standout “Rent I Pay,” shimmying with blithe ebullience on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’s “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” and bristling with stentorian fervor on brand-new track “No Bullets Spent,” its stylistic breadth astounds. The band’s bedrock is core members singer-guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, who complement one another like battery acid stirred into water, igniting a veritable fireworks display. Spoon shattered conventions in the aughts and ’10s for what it means to grow artistically while challenging and expanding its audience. An anachronism in 2019, they’re survivors who embody greats as disparate as The Cure, Can, Wire, and The Teardrop Explodes in both sound and spirit, with gas left in the tank to fuel further sonic adventures. [John Everhart]
On 2017’s Dada, B Boys ran a tightrope across the Atlantic, connecting Wire’s terseness to Devo’s madcap absurdism, and sent a crowd of anxieties out to walk the line. As the title implies, Dudu’s changes are subtle, but the tonal shift they produce is undeniable. Here, the New York trio integrate the least influential parts of extremely influential bands (pre–Double Nickels Minutemen, Fugazi at its most loping), bending the tense sound they established on Dada without breaking it. Like Suicidal Tendencies’ Mike Muir, Britton Walker frequently has more to say than he does space to say it, but he’s also learned that a well-fashioned melody can make up the difference; he and the band even hammer and bend highlight “On Repeat” into melancholy shapes straight out of Icky Mettle. There are a whole lot of proper names in this paragraph, yes, but B Boys play with such a ferocity of conviction that you get the sense that they took D. Boon at his word and made these bands their life. [Marty Sartini Garner]
Lloyd Cole has never been overly nostalgic about his own work. And so although Guesswork features two of his collaborators from ’80s band the Commotions (guitarist Neil Clark and keyboardist Blair Cowan) and long-time drummer Fred Maher, it’s no self-referential rehash. Instead, the album finds Cole full-on embracing his fondness for synthesizers to craft elegiac electronic-based music. Lush keyboards and soothing beats dominate, highlighted by the dour “The Afterlife” and shimmering “Moments And Whatnot,” while occasional guitar—such as the electric angst searing the percolating synth-pop of “Night Sweats,” and gentle strums swirling through “The Loudness Wars”—add heft. Cole’s wistful and bewildered lyrics match the music, as they ruminate on aging, relationship instability, and finding equilibrium in uncertain times. Fans of the thoughtful electronic music of recent vintage by OMD, Erasure, and Pet Shop Boys will find much to love about Guesswork. [Annie Zaleski]
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Breakup albums are commonplace. But an album that traces the trajectory of a relationship from its start to its demise, in real time, not so much. This is the ethos of Mini Mansions’ third album, Guy Walks Into A Bar…. A supergroup of sorts, Mini Mansions is the side gig for members of Queens Of The Stone Age, The Last Shadow Puppets, and Arctic Monkeys. An aural diary of vocalist-guitarist Michael Shulman’s doomed relationship, Guy… kicks off with the bouncing, Arctic Monkeys-influenced “Should Be Dancing,” marking the dizzying start of the initial meeting. This exuberant energy keeps up, much as it does in real life, as Guy moves through the getting-to-know-you phase into the heady, T. Rex-like “I’m In Love.” As the relationship deepens, the tempo mellows with the romantic “Time Machine.” The unraveling is in full effect on the part sassy, part enamored duet with The Kills’ Alison Mosshart, “Hey Lover,” signaling a bruised ending. [Lily Moayeri]
The Violent Femmes’ 10th album, Hotel Last Resort, finds a slower, smarter band than the young punks who first ripped everything up with cult hits like “Blister In The Sun” and “Add It Up” thirtysome years ago. The band’s bare-bones setup—standup bass, guitars, primitive percussion, including a Weber Grill—is still in play, though some horns make guest appearances, adding richness to tracks like “Adam Was A Man.” While another take on Femmes’ classic “I’m Nothing” wasn’t really necessary, even with a guest appearance by pro skateboarder Stefan Janoski, there’s lots for diehard fans to love here, with jaunty short cuts like “Not Ok” and “It’s All Or Nothing” hitting that familiar Femmes sweet spot. The lovelorn “Everlasting You” gets downright sentimental, a rarity, as does the Femmes’ hauntingly warped version of “God Bless America.” But the title track is the album’s centerpiece and masterpiece: a five-minute odyssey, with Television’s Tom Verlaine contributing ethereal guitars to a spooky ode about the end of the road. The Femmes may be singing about dire straits, but this record shows that they have miles to go before they even get close. [Gwen Ihnat]