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.
The English emcee Little Simz’ 2016 album, Stillness In Wonderland, was an immensely likable LP, showcasing a rapper at ease within wide-open, jazz-y spaces, transitioning smoothly into croons and watery interludes. Nice as it all was, though, none of it exactly stuck, which is why it’s fun to hear her lace some harder drums on the new single “101 FM.” She’s nimble and unaffected, reminiscing over hand-rolled Rizzla joints, fuss-free battle raps, and playing Crash Bandicoot as a kid. After “Boss” and “Offence,” it’s her third single in advance of a 2019 LP, all of which show a clearer focus, a harder edge, and a lot more promise. [Clayton Purdom]
Over the last two years, avant electronic producer Holly Herndon and her partner, Mat Dryhurst, have been rearing a baby. Not just your everyday baby: Spawn is an artificial neural network who’s been learning the voices of her parents and evolving on contact with Herndon and Dryhurst’s audiences and their extended family of artists and collaborators. On “Godmother” Spawn makes her studio debut by interpreting the work of Herndon’s friend and fellow experimentalist Jlin—Spawn’s godmother—in the voice she learned from her own mother (it’s Herndon’s). The product is fascinating and terrifying, nearly three minutes of mad, breathy fragments equally alien and affectionate. It all suggests Herndon’s forthcoming album will be a wild expansion of her singular approach to computer-based music. [Kelsey J. Waite]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Chance The Rapper has been actively subduing the hunger pangs of his devoted fanbase since his last full-length effort, 2016’s Coloring Book. From stopgap Christmas mixtape Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama to this summer’s “4 new songs” and even a stint in cinema with a role in A-24’s neo-horror Slice, it turns out rap’s technicolor wunderkind isn’t only a “rapper” after all. Now he’s dropped off two new stocking stuffers, including highlight “The Man Who Has Everything,” which finds an introspective Chance gliding over the warm buzz of a sampled guitar loop, co-produced by Jeremih and Nascent. Chance raps, “Like my papa ask the same question every year / What to get for my boy who has everything? / I said, I’ll take anything but everything.” It could be seasonal commentary on the risks of consumption devoid of soul, or maybe it’s just Chance’s fireside musings delivered to make sure we stay warm through a cold winter. [Adam Isaac Itkoff]
Stepping back from her day job as frontwoman for English indie-folk act Daughter, Elena Tonra assumes full control on her solo debut as Ex:Re (pronounced “X-ray”). While fans of Daughter’s more minimalist songs will find a musical kinship here, Ex:Re feels more profoundly intimate, like a languid diary of the breakup that reportedly inspired the record. (Flip that moniker: “Re: Ex.”) Tonra has always been an eloquent and affecting lyricist, but her words here convey a searing intimacy previously unheard in her work. Even the low-grade industrial throb of single “Romance” combines late-night confessional and stream-of-consciousness poetry: “Romance is dead and done, and it hits between the eyes on this side / The grass is dead and barren, and it hurts between my thighs on this side.” But the overall vibe is that of a pared-down existential crisis, from the Portishead-meets-Rachel Grimes of “The Dazzler” to the Elliott Smith-like hush of ennui that saturates many of these songs. It’s an instantly compelling record that nonetheless grows in power and depth with each listen. [Alex McLevy]
Meek Mill’s first record since being released from prison came out last week, and it immediately received a lot of attention for its splashiest tracks, particularly those featuring Cardi B (the Nicki beef!), JAY-Z (the Kanye beef?), and Drake (the, um, Meek Mill beef). But the marquee act on any Meek Mill record is always Meek himself, who has been rapping as if stuck in the climax of a training montage for over a decade. Championships, from its title down, leans into this, and, even though it’s way too long at 70 minutes, it’s got a handful of album cuts that easily rank among the rapper’s best. “Intro” is the best track to sample Phil Collins since Beanie Sigel, the title cut turns a bunch of wailing saxophones into an in-the-red prison sermon, and “Oodles O’Noodles Babies” features the most pointed Kanye rebuttal committed to tape. Meek may never put out a record in this mode—he’s too good at too many things—but if he did, it’d be a scorcher. [Clayton Purdom]