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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

5 new releases we love: Tinariwen drops a classic, Lower Dens dance it off, and more

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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.


Tinariwen, Amadjar

[ANTI-, September 6]

For its ninth—and maybe best—album, Tinariwen went back to its home: the road. Still unable to return to Mali, the nomadic Tuareg musicians recorded Amadjar while traveling from southern Morocco to Mauritania via caravan. Every night, they’d set up camp and play; somewhere in the desert outside of Nouakchott, they set up a tent and recorded. Fittingly, these droning songs of interlocking (and mostly acoustic) guitar come together with an appealing slowness, as if each element is steadily wandering in from the wilderness, curious about the noise and ready to join in. The playing is loose and free and open; leads are passed around, the dust is shaken off a few new percussion instruments, frequent guest Noura Mint Seymali’s ardîn trills playfully among the guitars. In what should surprise approximately nobody, Warren Ellis proves a natural fit with whipping violin lines and groaning feedback, while Micah Nelson’s spritely mandolin makes “Taqkal Tarha” one of the brightest songs the band has ever recorded. Make no mistake, Tinariwen is still playing the desert blues, but pain is always easier to bear among friends. [Marty Sartini Garner]

Lower Dens, The Competition 

[Ribbon Music, September 6]

If you won’t stop comparing Lower Dens to Beach House, then they will give you a reason to do so themselves. On fourth album The Competition, the Baltimore dream-pop band sings louder than ever while sharpening the edges of its synths—nearly to the point of optimism. Gone are the days of hauntingly lonely ballads like 2010’s “I Get Nervous”; the closest Jana Hunter and company get to that here is “Real Thing,” which burns with a metallic sheen rather than a feigned spark. Instead, The Competition prides itself on uptempo rebuttals; Hunter questions the intersection of gender and parenthood on dance-pop jam “I Drive” and critiques the insatiable destruction of the lower class on the elastic “Young Republicans.” If it’s not clear by the disco-splattered “Simple Life” or bouncy “Hand Of God,” Lower Dens are loving the ’80s on The Competition, a decision that allows them to stop carrying the weight of sadness and dance it off instead. [Nina Corcoran]

Paul Cauthen, Room 41

[Lightning Rod, September 6]

It’s startling how much Paul Cauthen sounds like Johnny Cash in the opening notes of “Angel,” off of the country insurgent’s new album Room 41. And although he’s less enamored with murder ballads than the Man In Black, Cauthen’s lyrics blend the sacred and the profane in classic outlaw country fashion, finding salvation both in a Saturday-night barroom and at the altar on Sunday morning. Lead single “Cocaine Country Dancing” celebrates the former with funky blasts of bass and a rhinestone leisure-suit strut, as does Cauthen’s pseudo-spoken-word R&B ode to the “Freaks” you meet behind bars. But the predominant mood of Room 41 is stirring revival-meeting gospel, as Cauthen testifies about all the hard livin’ he’s been doing and the angels who led him toward the light on hybrid love songs/hymns like “Prayed For Rain” and album opener “Holy Ghost Fire,” which finds Cauthen burning with fervor over wailing guitar, piano boogie, and an unexpected electro-soul beat. [Katie Rife]


Pom Pom Squad, Ow

[Self-released, September 6]

It’s fitting that Pom Pom Squad’s new EP, Ow, starts off with a simple guitar melody akin to a singalong campfire tune, because the record slowly reveals a haunting emotional core equivalent to any ghost story. “They all say they want what’s best for me,” singer Mia Berrin concludes on the short but potent track, before the record opens up into a fiery, distorted thrum of shambolic beauty and mid-tempo grunge all about heartache, trauma, and the specificity of her identity as a queer woman of color that achieves a universal relatability in its directness. It’s only seven songs, but the EP covers a lot of ground: From the explosive churn of “Heavy Heavy” that would sit comfortably alongside early Hole, to the bubblegrunge groove of “Honeysuckle,” to the minimalist tension of “Cherry Blossom” that evokes both old slowcore like Bedhead and Helium, as well as contemporaries such as Soccer Mommy. No matter the style, however, Berrin and company couple their powerfully direct music with her intense lyricism, belying its seeming simplicity with a nuance no less artful for how fiercely pissed-off it gets. This is music to get angry to. [Alex McLevy]


Tool, Fear Inoculum

[Tool Dissectional/Volcano/RCA, August 30]

Tool’s Maynard James Keenan once growled, “Learn to swim.” On the band’s fifth album, Fear Inoculum, the command is: “Learn to breathe.” Maybe meditate. Hell, try yoga. After 13 years, Tool has returned with 86 minutes of metal mantras, meaty guitars, and math (“7empest” is in 21). Fear Inoculum fascinates because Tool is still Tool, writing 15-minute jams that build to that climax when drummer Danny Carey punches every drum available like Goro from Mortal Kombat, when Adam Jones’ guitar and Justin Chancellor’s bass shoot laser-sharp riffs through stoners’ skulls. These moments usually included Keenan’s roar; here, he saves his energy. As much as Fear Inoculum asks listeners to chill, the 30-year-old band is aware of its mortality—a “warrior struggling to remain relevant,” Keenan sings in “Invincible.” Through the course of the album, Keenan spirals out. By the time we reach the excellent “7empest,” which tops 15 minutes, he’s spitting through his teeth, “Fuck, here we go again.” Rock gods, they’re just like us: too old for this shit. [Matt Sigur]