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.
Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud
There’s always been a twang buried in the vocals of Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield, a lilt that gave heft and personality to the stormy grunge of releases like 2015’s Ivy Tripp and 2017’s Out In The Storm. Having flexed her rock bona fides, Crutchfield put away her pedals and climbed behind a piano for 2018’s Great Thunder, an EP one could call a precursor to Saint Cloud’s clean, relaxed songcraft. “Can’t Do Much” and “Lilacs,” with their bright strums and swelling choruses, cut like wind through fresh-cut grass, while “Hell,” a standout cut influenced by Dolly Parton, pairs piercing lyrics—“I hover above like a deity, but you don’t worship me”—with the record’s most emphatic vocal performance. The disco rhythm of “Fire” and the vivid synths of “Ruby Falls” ground Saint Cloud in the here and now, but there’s still a vintage air to many of these songs, the sensation that, once upon a time, you heard them spinning on your parents’ record player. [Randall Colburn]
Pearl Jam, Gigaton
“Part of what makes Gigaton fascinating is the way these sonic departures actually fuse in unexpected ways with some of the band’s traditional four-on-the-floor stompers. Alternating between classic guitar riffage, sputtering ’80s-style new wave, epic layers of vocal collage, and awkward fusions of the three, the record tries to be all things to all people, a crowd-pleasing delivery of rock ’n’ roll interwoven with art-damaged aspirations of something more, akin at times to the group’s landmark Vitalogy. It sometimes fails, but longtime Pearl Jam fans know better than to expect a steady consistency of quality across an entire album. If some of the band’s ’90s output can make the case for being front-to-back masterpieces, the 21st century has demonstrated that every subsequent album contains at least one or two duds. It’s a small price to pay to enjoy such a longstanding creatively relevant act.”
Read our featured review of Gigaton here.
Half Waif, The Caretaker
What began as an unassuming music outlet for Nandi Rose Plunkett has, over the past few years, blossomed into the deeply moving project Half Waif, and The Caretaker—her major-label debut under the moniker—is poised to become her breakout album. Rose has always exuded refreshing confidence and unexpected creativity within her music. But now, there’s a sense of curiosity driving her songs, too, and it results in numbers, like “Ordinary Talk,” “My Best Self,” and “Blinking Light,” that dance with nontraditional rhythms and lush vocal patterns. This glow-up places Half Waif somewhere between Weyes Blood and Perfume Genius, what with their acrobatic singing and aquatic-like ambiance. Rose credits it to the fact that The Caretaker caught her in a time when she was searching for strength. Perhaps that’s why there’s the question of “What if?” lingering at the album’s core, pushing her to explore what Half Waif could become—and embracing her new form with a thrilling sense of disbelief when it works out. [Nina Corcoran]
Deeper feels the pain of everything. On Auto-Pain, the Chicago-based band’s second album, tuning into the panic and manic anxiety is the point. It had to be after the departure, then suicide, of guitarist Michael Clawson, whose work appears on some tracks here. Auto-Pain is the band’s weapon, an army of songs combatting the tragedy head-on. The Gang Of Four-like guitars squeak in and out; Drew McBride’s bass lines provide a steady punch; and drummer Shiraz Bhatti’s beats burst with precision. Singer-guitarist Nic Gohl gathers what emotion he can to get through disaster. On “Willing,” he confronts attitudes toward depression, repeating the line, “It’s the willingness to ignore it.” “The Knife” sounds like a conversation between someone blatantly admitting guilt for self-harm and another who offers comfort with a simple nod in the lyric “Nonsense, come here.” With or without the backstory in mind, Auto-Pain is a captivating dose of catharsis—something we could all use right now. [Matt Sigur]
Over the past 15 years, Canadian singer-songwriter Basia Bulat has steadily attracted listeners around the globe with her rich alto, poetic lyrics, and ability to play seemingly any instrument (including autoharp and charango). Her fifth album, Are You In Love?, takes the best of her retro folk-, soul-, and R&B-influenced sound and turns the dial way up for a widescreen scope that deftly showcases her tales of love and loss. Produced largely in Joshua Tree by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James during a time of great personal change for Bulat (including getting married and the passing of her father), Are You In Love? is the sound of an artist coming fully into her own. From the burnished waltz of the title track to the ’60s girl-group sway of lead single “Your Girl,” Bulat’s arresting vibrato and emotive imagery underscore her wide range and peerless knack for melody. Prior to starting the album, Bulat wrote to James saying she wanted to “write a beautiful record about compassion.” Are You In Love? meets that bar and then some. [Tabassum Siddiqui]