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.
This week’s A-Sides celebrates International Women’s Day with the future of R&B, the resilience of a breast cancer survivor, gender non-conforming queer songwriters, and more.
Ex-Cherry Glazerr keyboardist Sasami Ashworth’s debut full-length under the mononymous moniker Sasami is surprisingly guitar-forward for a self-proclaimed “synth queen.” To be clear, that’s a good thing—the buzzy guitars that cut through lead single “Not The Time” add a caffeinated ’90s throwback energy to the song’s sugar-sweet vocals, for an effect not unlike My Bloody Valentine after pounding a half-dozen Pixie Stix. As the album progresses and the sugar high begins to wear off, Sasami settles into an equally dreamy, but less jittery, energy. But even at its most melancholy, Sasami is still capable of giving the listener a head rush, as helium vocals bounce off of sharp drum-machine beats before floating away like so many brightly colored balloons into the perfect blue of the Southern California sky. [Katie Rife]
Patty Griffin, Patty Griffin
Even at their most melancholy, Patty Griffin’s songs have a fighting spirit: the lonely narrator of “Making Pies” finding purpose in the mundane, the absentee husband in “Top Of The World” atoning at the 11th hour. This is truer than ever on Patty Griffin, the 10th album by the veteran folk singer-songwriter, which was written during and after a battle with cancer. Griffin never directly addresses her health in the album’s hour-long runtime, but you hear her resilience in the soulful force of “River,” her voice as powerful as ever. There is darkness in the album’s moody minor melodies, and the guitars often kick up like dust storms (“Where I Come From”), but there’s also a vital energy pushing the music into varied territories like North Mississippi blues (“The Wheel”) and immaculate vocal jazz (it’s easy to imagine Billie Holiday singing “Mama’s Worried,” or “What I Remember” as a Chet Baker outtake). Born of “profound personal crisis,” perhaps, but showing no crisis in craft, Patty Griffin is the artist in top form. [Kelsey J. Waite]
How do you follow up a monumental statement of selfhood and purpose like A Seat At The Table? If you are Solange Knowles, you retreat, creating an album less extroverted, more compositional, stranger and gnarled and occasionally galactic in its thinking. Indeed, where her last work felt like a late-coming neo-soul masterpiece, born a decade too late and not a moment too soon, When I Get Home pushes aggressively into the future of R&B, with stuttering drums, mechanical reloads, and dreamy raps floating through all the analog Stevie Wonder instrumentation. Solange weaves these disparate threads together not through her own story but through her own mind, conjuring a humid Houston night that never ends. DJ Screw’s there; so’s Sun Ra; so’s Panda Bear, why not. For an album that synthesizes so much, it’s the transitions that linger, ultimately. That moment when “Jerrod” flips to “Binz”? Good lord, we’ll never be ready. [Clayton Purdom]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Rosie Tucker, Never Not Never Not Never Not
Rosie Tucker’s sophomore album is as rowdy as it is tender, an emotive, guitar-forward trip inspired by the “queer, blacklisted, and forgotten female songwriters of the 1960s.” There’s a warm, barroom-like quality to songs like “Gay Bar” and “Spinster Cycle,” which overflow with clever, descriptive lyrics that set a scene as well as they unspool Tucker’s livewire stream of consciousness. The same goes for album standout “Lauren,” a gorgeous illustration of Tucker’s versatile vocal range that doubles as an empathetic portrait of a friend struggling with bipolar disorder. Though Never Not Never Not Never Not exhales with atmospheric tracks like “Real House Music” and the starry-eyed “Iceberg,” it’s Tucker’s ear for robust, rollicking hooks that buoy the album’s best songs. Songs like “Fault Lines” and “Pablo Neruda” buzz with a tipsy, infectious energy, while “Shadow Of The Doubt” has a chorus that just won’t quit. [Randall Colburn]
Rebecca Lucy Taylor is best known as half of the fantastic U.K. folk-pop duo Slow Club, which is to say that in the U.S. she’s not especially known at all. Now Slow Club has run its course, and Taylor has released a new record under the moniker Self Esteem, infusing her old band’s evolution toward torchier material with a newly poppy swagger. Some of the record’s numerous highlights, like “Steady I Stand,” sound a bit like Slow Club tunes with a more aggressive backbeat. Others wield less expected influences; “Monster” has a bouncy lilt recalling Hamilton’s Beyoncé riff “Helpless.” Compliments Please is a little long for a shot of pure pop, and a little self-conscious about its status as a solo jaunt (its opening track is a sample of a musician explaining why it’s hard to stay in a band, as if the album requires exposition). But its abundance—of songs, of hooks, of heartfelt and relatable lyrics—mostly feels like a gift. “I did the best that I could, babe,” Taylor sings on ebullient standout “The Best,” and it’s easy to believe her. [Jesse Hassenger]