Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Wolf Parade with dog parade
Wolf Parade with dog parade
Photo: Pamela Evelyn & Joseph Yarmush

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.

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Wolf Parade, Thin Mind

[Sub Pop, January 24]

Wolf Parade returned in 2017, raw throats and bright synths intact, with Cry Cry Cry, its first proper LP in seven years. Thin Mind arrives on the cresting wave of its momentum, sustaining the tight sound of its predecessor while embodying fresh themes. “Thin Mind refers to the way that being around too much tech has made our focus thin,” explains keyboardist Spencer Krug, echoing the concerns of any elder millennial who didn’t grow up with the internet. This modern anxiety permeates these 10 songs—“I could have been asleep by now,” Dan Boeckner laments after “staring at the screen until I lost my vision”—and also gives weight to the band’s penchant for proggy flights of fancy. Evoking the specter of that thin focus, the final minutes of songs like “Forest Green” and “Town Square” pivot into rowdy instrumentals that thrillingly whisk us far from where they began. But, even as it pushes thematic boundaries, the band’s strengths remain intact: Boeckner’s still a virtuoso on the guitar, and the theatricality Krug honed with Sunset Rubdown and Moonface inevitably stirs the soul. [Randall Colburn]

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Bonny Light Horseman, Bonny Light Horseman

[37d03d, January 24]

Those frightened by either or both of the words in “folk supergroup” shouldn’t sprint too quickly away from this trio, which comprises singer-songwriters Anais Mitchell (best known, oddly enough, for the Hadestown musical) and Eric Johnson (best known for Fruit Bats) along with producer Josh Kaufman. They first came together for one of those impromptu-ish performances that the Eaux Claires Festival tries to encourage, and were further supported by Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner with an invitation to an artist residency in Berlin. The gorgeous songs on Bonny Light Horseman are largely traditional, but not of the “This Land Is Your Land Variety”—only the folkiest of folk enthusiasts will likely recognize them. Which makes it all seem both anachronistic and brand new, with a decidedly indie-ish vibe pushing it somewhere that more straightforward folk refuses to go. It doesn’t hurt that Mitchell and Johnson’s voices absolutely melt into each other’s, or that Vernon himself shows up on the short-and-sweet “Bright Morning Stars,” where his deep voice—mercifully free of effects—weaves right in. [Josh Modell]

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Hayley Williams, “Simmer”

[Atlantic, January 22]

As the frontwoman of widely revered punk-pop outfit Paramore, Hayley Williams has long mastered the art of channeling rage through wailing, soulful indignation. As the first single from her most ambitious solo effort to date, “Simmer” is an aptly titled departure from what has endeared so many to Williams from the start. Gone are the power guitar-driven melodies and belty vocals to make way for a tempered, thrumming baseline and a dangerously quiet anger that percolates beneath the surface. With “Simmer,” Williams ventures to “draw the line between wrath and mercy” by acknowledging her innate fury without ever fully succumbing to it, exuding an eerie control that is mirrored by breathy, measured refrains. It’s a promising glimpse of the forthcoming Petals For Armor, and like the end of its second verse—“If my child needed protection / From a fucker like that man / I’d sooner gut him / ’Cause nothing cuts like a mother”—it’s a biting delight. [Shannon Miller]

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We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.

Mick Jenkins, The Circus

[Cinematic Music Group, January 10]

Hip-hop, maybe more than any genre, is always openly reflecting on its own industry, whether it’s young rappers wanting to make it, made rappers flaunting their success, or others still critiquing the hypocrisies of the game. Mick Jenkins is largely in the latter camp on his latest EP, The Circus, a moody and meandering set of tracks that hint at the direction of the Chicago MC’s next full-length. Jenkins’ flow is sharp but inviting throughout The Circus, and dense with skillful rhymes, as he outlines his own place in what can be a hostile business (“Same Ol”) and country (“Carefree”) for young Black men. “They just want the hooks, got me out here fighting sickle cell,” he raps on “Different Scales,” while trying to find freedom from police profiling, phony people, and negativity on other songs. Even with Jenkins in looser form than on his ambitious previous LPs, The Circus is worth the whirl. [Kelsey J. Waite]

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Nicolas Godin, Concrete And Glass

[Because Music, January 24]

A new Air album isn’t in the works, but the French duo’s members continually replenish the sonic supplies. Nicolas Godin’s second solo album, Concrete And Glass, shares DNA with the synthpop of Air and uses architecture as its jumping-off point. The record’s origins trace back to when Godin was commissioned by artist Xavier Veilhan to create music in response to four noted homes designed by modernist architects in which Veilhan was staging exhibits. Those minimalist compositions are finely shaped into an atmosphere-based album, partially by having featured vocalists including Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor on the soft-focus “Catch Yourself Falling” and Cola Boyy on the floating “The Foundation.” Godin himself gets on the vocoder—a signature sound for Air on the title track that evokes a familiar spacey feeling that sets the stylish retro-ambient tone for Concrete And Glass. A quarter century of practice, and Godin has perfected the art of drawing a warm digital sound bath. [Lily Moayeri]

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