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.
Smino’s music is wonderfully hard to pin down. Last year’s excellent Blkswn and the new (and also excellent) Noir are both slippery, hour-long stretches of smooth, genre-defying sound, with raps that melt easily into soulful croons and beats that seem to grow new limbs and transform into entirely new organisms as they run on. He operates out of the same nexus of forward-thinking R&B as SZA and Sir, but in lieu of their preternatural hooks he pushes out into bolder and stranger places, sprinkling reggae and electro and bold ambient interludes into the mix. Astonishingly enough, Noir, like Blkswn, holds together across its 18 wildly varied tracks. Imagine an alternate universe in which André 3000 doesn’t retire after The Love Below but instead downshifts into low-key, unfussy experimentation, and you’re pretty close. The only difference is that Smino sounds like he’s just getting started. [Clayton Purdom]
Thought Gang, Thought Gang
It would be strange to go into Thought Gang assuming the record was anything less than a little weird. An album of oddball jazz compositions, this music from longtime collaborators David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti actually sat on the shelf for more than 25 years before finally seeing a proper release. Recorded in the early ’90s, only two tracks here have been heard before (from the Fire Walk With Me soundtrack), and the rest—a result of the two cinematic auteurs working with some freewheeling studio jazz players—is just as curious and musically far-reaching as you might imagine. There are hep-cat grooves straight out of Twin Peaks, free-jazz freak-outs, ambient soundscapes, and spoken-word odysseys as unusual as anything the two have created before. It doesn’t all cohere—Badalamenti’s vocal bleats and the thudding beats of “A Meaningless Conversation” just don’t work—but overall it’s a swirling miasma of jazzy thrills, a solid fusion of warped weirdness and pulsing rhythms. [Alex McLevy]
Earl Sweatshirt, “Nowhere2go”
If there’s any rapper on the planet worth getting excited about 1:53 of new music from, it’s Earl Sweatshirt, the prodigiously talented Odd Future breakout whose 2015 effort, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, heralded the arrival of a major, even literary talent. After a 20-second cameo on Vince Staples’ surprise release FM!, the sometimes-reclusive emcee began to tease new music, finally dropping the brief “Nowhere2go” Thursday morning. Gone is the rapper who came out of the gate with showy wordplay and labyrinthine assonance, now mumbling from somewhere within a fractured, error-prone beat. Like many of Earl’s best tracks, it feels epistolary, like a progress update from a person journeying quietly and solitarily toward a better understanding of himself (“Only thing on my mind was death / Didn’t know if my time was next / Tryna refine this shit / I redefined myself”). It’s not the full album we might’ve hoped for, but it still shows just how much he can do with a couple minutes of your time. Here’s hoping for more soon. [Clayton Purdom]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Vera Sola, Shades
The three kick-drum beats followed by a snap of snare drum and tambourine—a.k.a. the “Be My Baby” beat—that punctuate the ethereal layers of organ on album opener “Virgil’s Flowers” tell you everything you need to know about Vera Sola’s ghostly approach to midcentury pop Americana. More cinematic than Lana Del Rey but equally elegiac, Vera Sola is a longtime member of Elvis Perkins’ band whose debut album, Shades, combines expansive, open-road spaghetti-Western guitars, funereal drumbeats, skeletal strings, and Sola’s vibrato-laden vocals for a sound like a cold wind through bare tree branches. This all sounds goth as hell—and it is, albeit more in an “Autoharp cover of Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’” sort of way than the pounding industrial beats of an underground club. Zola Jesus takes care of that last part, with her remix of lead single “Colony” that transforms the lonesome Western vibes of the original into something with a much more metallic edge. [Katie Rife]
Marianne Faithfull, Negative Capability
A year after the Jagger-Richards song “As Tears Go By” catapulted Marianne Faithfull’s career—at the time an unplanned, superficial pop experiment—Faithfull got married, and the papers assured the public, not to worry, “Marianne will keep singing.” No one had any idea how right they’d be. Nine lives, 50-plus years, and several iconic artistic evolutions later, Faithfull has just released her 21st studio album, Negative Capability, at age 71, and it confirms she is still one of folk-rock’s most distinct, brutally honest voices, conveying a lifetime of love and loss in every gravelly syllable. Negative Capability’s arrangements are stark yet warm, as are Faithfull’s poetic reflections here on time and friends gone. Severe arthritis prevents her from touring or moving about much, but Marianne will keep singing, all right. Not only that, she’ll continue to find new depths to her expression. As she recently put it to The Guardian: “You try and fucking stop me.” [Kelsey J. Waite]