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.
Read our featured review of Bruce Springsteen’s new album Letter To You.
The Mountain Goats, Getting Into Knives
There’s an appealing looseness to Getting Into Knives, the new Mountain Goats album, that makes it a warmer and more inviting record than either the thematic ambition of 2019’s In League With Dragons or the back-to-the-boombox simplicity of frontman John Darnielle’s solo release Songs For Pierre Chuvin. Knives feels like a front-row seat to the band gathering together some friends and spending a night putting on a show for themselves. From the ambient crowd noise that kicks off the record, to the Memphis soul horns and keyboards weighing in on tracks like “Get Famous” and “Rat Queen,” or the organ lending the title track a retro glow, the music rises and falls like an expertly constructed setlist, all anchored by Darnielle’s signature lyrical-yet-forthright vocals. If there’s a tendency to run long (some tracks feel padded, with half a dozen songs approaching or crossing the five-minute mark), it’s balanced by the diversity of sounds—for every gently rolling “Picture Of A Dress,” there’s the urgent tension of “As Many Candles As Possible”; for every bass-driven groove like “Tidal Wave,” a mournful piano ballad like “The Last Place I Saw You Alive.” The Mountain Goats aren’t reinventing the wheel here—just being very, very good at what they do. [Alex McLevy]
No Thank You, Embroidered Foliage
If All It Takes To Ruin It All, No Thank You’s 2018 album that served as a moving and raw meditation on loss and grief, was the band’s Nebraska, a lo-fi slice of unfiltered passion, then Embroidered Foliage is its Born In The U.S.A.—a huge-sounding (and sharply produced) collection of anthemic rock that pushes the band into new sonic territory. The fiercer tracks have gotten absolutely massive (“Saturn Return” and “Embroidered” approach Hum-like levels of guitar noise), but the quieter numbers are more expansive, too, with “Eden” backing up Kaytee Della Monica’s layered, effects-heavy vocals via gently plucked acoustic strings and a swirling wall of synth. It may not be as raw-nerve brutal, but the songs haven’t lost any of the emotional intensity that has defined the band’s output, Della Monica’s razor-tongued assessments of fractured relationships and struggles to find one’s inner strength coming across as intimate as a whispered secret. (And in record time: No Thank You has kept up its penchant for Guided By Voices-esque brevity.) There may be better records that came out in 2020, but few can match Embroidered Foliage’s claim to rousing indie-rock awesomeness. [Alex McLevy]
Tayla Parx, “Residue”
The ghost of a former lover (or even just a particularly sticky crush) isn’t the easiest to shake. Tussling with a stubborn “knot [she] can’t undo,” singer-songwriter Tayla Parx distills the arduous task in “Residue,” a haunting pop jaunt that comes courtesy of her upcoming album, Coping Mechanisms. Parx’s alluring vocals, gauzy harmonies, and a particularly bewitching guitar make this curiously upbeat bit of mourning a perfect Halloween treat. Having written for some of the biggest pop acts to date—like BTS, Panic! At The Disco, and Ariana Grande, to name a few—Parx is no stranger to an addictive chorus. “Residue” is no exception, as a lightly delivered “Residue-do-do-do-do” refrain melds with clanky, industrial-sounding production. Considering the subject matter, the eerie bop shouldn’t exude as much genuine fun as it does, but we wouldn’t expect anything less from such a thoroughly charismatic artist. [Shannon Miller]
PUP, This Place Sucks Ass
Let nobody tell you everything isn’t fucked. Capitalism has run amok, our government hates us, and the powerful will never be punished—people love to scold the hopeless, but Christ does it feel good to splash, if only for a moment, in the warm waters of nihilism. This Place Sucks Ass, the new EP from Toronto rockers PUP, is the perfect soundtrack for your most despairing nights, consumed as it is by that giddy, red-hot space between resignation and rejuvenation. “Thought I could just crank up the noise and maybe it would drown it out, but nothing ever changes,” singer Stefan Babcock shouts on “Nothing Changes,” a song that maniacally dances in the ruins of our idealism before grudgingly sobering up. “I just need a quiet lull, some books and alcohol to get me through the night,” he sings, wearily. “And I’ll begin again.” Like PUP’s best music, these six songs capture the immediacy of anger—and by doing so, provide the best vent you could ask for. [Randall Colbun]
Valley Maker, “Mockingbird”
Roughly two years since the release of Rhododendron, South Carolina songwriter Austin Crane’s third LP as Valley Maker, the ruminative folk outfit has returned with a new single, “Mockingbird.” Crane’s nimble fingerpicking, fleshed out by Amy Godwin’s celestial backing vocals, carry the ghostly, windswept track across six minutes that explore themes familiar to Valley Maker: memory, nature, the passage of time. But “Mockingbird” is also a chronicle of transition, a reflection of Crane’s move from Seattle to the South Carolina community of his childhood and the contemplations of self that inevitably follow. “Part of me wants to be amazed,” he sings. “Part of me remains unchanged.” A sense of place emerges through it all—a tree is planted, an interstate driven, a dog walked. An exploration of identity is set against a strive toward permanence. In a culture that feels constantly unmoored, there’s comfort in that. [Randall Colburn]