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5 new releases we love: U.S. Girls find the light, Stephen Malkmus gets traditional, and more

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Photo: 4AD

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.

U.S. Girls, Heavy Light

[4AD/Royal Mountain, March 6]

With Heavy Light, U.S. Girls leader Meg Remy looks back. Gone is the grand and sprawling disco-pop of In A Poem Unlimited—save for shades of it in funk-facing opener “4 American Dollars,” a searing condemnation of the American dream—and in its place are intimate, evocative, fractured narratives that find Remy in deep reflection. The songwriting, coupled with a live recording approach and the presence of interview collages where band members speak to their teenage selves and recall painful memories, pushes Heavy Light to unfold naturally and like a hazy dream. There are echoes of Jersey heroes Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith on the cinematic “IOU,” and “The Quiver to The Bomb” captures the whole of human existence in piano-driven spaciness. Ed Squires’ grooving percussion arrangements build the invaluable backbone, crafting an ideal atmosphere for Remy to build the electrifying performances that make her music so compelling. [Matt Williams]


Caroline Rose, Superstar

[New West Records, March 6]

The new album from indie-pop auteur Caroline Rose chronicles a striver who parlays a mistaken phone call into a semi-delusional westward quest to conquer Hollywood. As with so many carefully plotted-out musical narratives, the characterizations scan more easily than any specific story turns. Musically, though, Superstar is a coherent statement: Synth-and-key numbers that combine the ethereal melancholy of bedroom pop (“Pipe Dreams”) with the propulsive swagger of actual pop (“Got To Go My Own Way”), sometimes on the same track (“Do You Think We’ll Last Forever?”). If this means fewer of the unpredictable swings that made Rose’s previous record Loner so exhilarating, it comes with its own major highs, like the way she stretches and twists the text-ready lines “Do you think we’ll last forever? No pressure though, would you just tell me yes or no?” into a sing-songy elongation punctuated by dance-y staccato. In other words: a major star turn. [Jesse Hassenger]


R.A.P. Ferreira, Purple Moonlight Pages

[Ruby Yacht, March 6]

R.A.P. Ferreira is the latest refinement for Rory Ferreira, a densely lyrical voice who has used growing cult fame to build Ruby Yacht, a collective of like-minded artists based in Maine. His former work as Milo was more firmly steeped in West Coast underground lore–quietly meditative rhythms and battle rap volleys against mainstream culture–but Purple Moonlight Pages is relatively raucous, taking in swing jazz licks on “Noncipher,” and offering a short, heartfelt reprise of Pharaoh Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Masterplan.” Ferreira has a calm, flowing voice that demands a close listen and rewards with stories about doing “Laundry” with his son and crafting vibrant songs for art’s sake. An appearance by underrated poet and musician Mike Ladd on “An Idea Is a Work of Art” underlines his connection to earlier fusions of beats and spoken-word poetry, and a shining star among many. [Mosi Reeves]

Shell Of A Shell, Away Team

[Exploding in Sound, February 28]

Chappy Hull has spent the past decade wielding his guitar in galvanic, punk-leaning rock acts Gnarwhal and Pile. But on his debut full-length as Shell of a Shell, his Nashville-based solo project that’s turned into a proper band, Hull finds himself scaling back on the knotted guitar solos to make room for sprawling confrontations with depression. Each song has flashes of an insulted, low-flying panic attack: the anxious criss-crossing melodies of “My Wildfire,” the furious spiral closing out “Don’t Expect,” the way Hull sings that minor-note lilt in the bridge of “Funny.” Listening to Away Team, it’s easy to imagine overhearing the band—comprised of Hull, guitarist Dylan Liverman, bassist Noel Richards, and drummer Ian Sundstrom—rehearse in a practice space down the hall and pausing your own rehearsal to marvel at what’s going on next door. There’s a welcome reflection within Hull’s corner of the indie rock world here, and it signals a growing sense of control within himself as a songwriter, too. [Nina Corcoran]


Stephen Malkmus, Traditional Techniques 

[Matador, March 6]

Stephen Malkmus’ strange and unpredictable artistic path has been a very soothing balm to assuage the pain of losing Pavement. There are solid gold deposits in the largely unimpeachable catalog of songs by the former Pavement frontman, and Traditional Techniques—his ninth solo album—easily ranks as one of his most compelling. He teases with tinctures on this collection of soft-hewn, fireside folk meditations. Sitar and flute flourishes embellish where they could easily clutter, and when he slyly suggests that you “be self-evidently true in your heart and your soul” on the silvery Fairport Convention-esque reverie “Cash Up,” he captures the elusive spirit of the album—one which offers no easy answers, faced stoically with dignified resignation. Carrion and decay and unhappy endings may be inevitable, but it’s ultimately all surreal emotional trash in the beguilingly untraditional world he inhabits, one devoid of cheap sentimentality yet heavy on keen self-awareness. [John Everhart]