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.
Julia Jacklin, Crushing
Ostensibly a breakup record, Crushing is really about singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin’s journey back to herself, about acknowledging all the ways that the world makes women feel small and afraid and unimportant and repairing the connections between body and mind severed by a lifetime of everyday trauma. “I guess it’s just my life / And I guess it’s just my body,” Jacklin mumbles on the dazed “Body,” before rousing a long-dormant sense of self-esteem to shout, “Say it till he understands / You can love somebody without using your hands,” over crashing power chords on the poised “Head Alone.” Jacklin is remarkably honest about the ways she puts herself last, letting a man condescend to her because “I can tell you won’t sleep well / If you don’t teach me how to do it right.” But behind the “chill girl” ideal that Jacklin’s been performing is a spark of intelligence that has been dimmed, but can never be extinguished. You can hear it in the interplay between brittle snare drum and warm piano throughout Crushing as well as in Jacklin’s vibrato-laden voice, which expresses everything from fearful hesitancy to confident charisma depending on where she is in her quest to pick herself up off the floor and begin again. [Katie Rife]
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, “Flat Tummy Tea”
This March marks the fifth anniversary of Madlib and Freddie Gibbs’ collaborative LP Piñata, an underground dream project that pretty much immediately ascended into the annals of all-time-great producer-rapper collaborations. Rumors have circulated ever since about a follow-up called Bandana, and at last we have “Flat Tummy Tea,” a bisected blunt-burner that picks up right where the duo left off. Has Freddie Gibbs mellowed out at all? Resolutely, he has not, knocking white Jesus off a white horse with a sword and claiming top-five alive status with a certainty we seldom hear from 2019’s pilled-out Creepypasta emcees. The first half finds Madlib in neck-snapping bomb-shelter mode; the second half is somnambulant and dreamy, if you can imagine it without Gibbs’ virtuoso chest-thumping over top. Anyway, here’s hoping the wait’s almost over: These two bring out the best in each other. [Clayton Purdom]
Michael Benjamin Lerner’s first three albums recorded as Telekinesis revealed a staggeringly talented artist with pure pop instincts commensurate with the estimable modern likes of Teenage Fanclub and The Posies. Fourth LP Ad Infinitum, released in 2015, was something of an artistic palette cleanse, guided by electronic stylistic tinctures via vintage Roland synths used on the original Twin Peaks score and an admitted infatuation with the euphoric synth-pop of The Blue Nile. After a dream tour as a sideman with his heroes Teenage Fanclub, playing keyboards and guitars, Lerner has returned to his roots on Effluxion, a wickedly catchy, achingly gorgeous album that evinces a deluge of raw and unfettered human feelings. It ebbs and flows from cathartic emotional earthquakes (“A Place In The Sun”) to arresting serenity (“How Do I Get Rid of Sunlight?”), achieving a sublime universal level of human connectedness when paired with such irresistible hooks, melodies, and harmonies. [John Everhart]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe to the 2019 list here.
Yola, Walk Through Fire
The retro influences behind Yola’s debut LP, Walk Through Fire, are easy to spot: The Everly Brothers, Dolly Parton, Mavis Staples’ folkier side, late-’60s West Coast pop. But that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable or their fusion any less masterful. Producer Dan Auerbach and the British singer-songwriter, who previously sang backup for other artists (and briefly in Massive Attack), breathe fresh air into these well-worn sounds by rooting Yola’s songs in plainspoken emotional honesty and by enlisting a murderers’ row of Nashville players to bring them to life. Mavis’ influence can especially be heard on the Dan Penn-assisted title track, while the Joe Allen co-written “Ride Out In The Country” is a swooning dirt-road reverie in a more modern country-pop style. Above all, don’t miss “Love All Night (Work All Day),” which hits the highway west for Nutbush city limits. And good luck finding songs with this much soul on mainstream country radio. [Kelsey J. Waite]
Marissa Nadler’s music, from its shadowy melodies to the singer’s spectral vocals, exudes an air of gothic romance better than just about any modern artist. Every song feels sepia-toned, as if it’s spilling from a cracked, fading photograph in your grandmother’s attic. That’s certainly the case for “Poison,” a sweeping ballad that serves as a digestif of sorts for last year’s lovely For My Crimes. The Velvet Underground’s John Cale joins Nadler for the single, his own weathered voice braiding beautifully with hers before fluttering off in a splash of moonlight. It’s sunny on the single’s B-side, “If We Make It Through The Summer,” but Nadler’s yearning still radiates from the track’s melodic chorus and propulsive percussion. Sunny or not, her songs have a way of chilling the soul. [Randall Colburn]