Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Transcendent hip-hop and a massive instrumental memoriam: 5 new releases we love

McKinley Dixon
McKinley Dixon
Photo: David Muessig

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. Unless otherwise noted, all releases are now available.

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To read our featured review of the new Weezer album, Van Weezer, click here.


McKinley Dixon, For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her

[Spacebomb Records]

The expansive landscape of Black experience and identity conjured by McKinley Dixon on For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her is a far-ranging and immersive musical portrait of lives across generations, a hip-hop Visit From The Goon Squad that repeatedly creates moments of incisive beauty. Sometimes this comes from Dixon’s choice to forgo beats, as on “make a poet Black” or “Mama’s Home,” the latter’s harp and piano underscoring his evocative verses on hope. Sometimes it comes from the lush, jazzy boom-bap that conjures visions of Mos Def, notably on “Swangin’.” And the electric instrumentation can’t help but invite the occasional Roots comparisons, from “Never Will Know” to “brown shoulders.” Yet Dixon fuses these disparate elements into a distinctive and engrossing document, tracing stories of history, trauma, and uplift in ways that continually surprise; he can turn on a dime from slick to soulful to angry. And the clever arrangements keep pace with his dextrous voice—“bless the child” changes up its rhythm and momentum as often as its narrator changes subjects. This is rap as requiem and rebirth all at once, far bigger than the sum of its parts. [Alex McLevy]

Carsie Blanton, Love & Rage

[self-released]

The common knock on Carsie Blanton’s work is that it’s “NPR music”—i.e., easy-listening singer-songwriter material with folksy, progressive political themes, genteel and inoffensive. While those descriptors are technically true, they also completely miss the point: Blanton’s unique talent positions her squarely in the tradition of great American troubadours like John Prine, an artist who proudly embraces the structures of old-school southern folk, Americana, and jazzy Mardi Gras party music, retrofitting them all to blend together into a singular style that sounds both timeless and wholly distinctive. The defining trait is her voice: a honeyed grain that slides effortlessly between Dolly Parton-esque drawl and Madeleine Peyroux-like nightclub emoting, capable of ambling through rousing cheers like “Party At The End Of The World” or intimate torch-song soul like “All My Love.” As the title implies, Blanton alternates between the personal and political with masterful arrangements, even offering some more contemporary sounds in the digital pop of come-hither groove “Be So Bad.” (“You say I only want you for your body / would that be so bad?”) It’s only easy listening in that Blanton’s loose, rollicking music is easy to love. [Alex McLevy]

Mia Joy, Spirit Tamer

[Fire Talk]

It doesn’t get much dreamier than combining ambient soundscapes with shoegaze guitars, and Mia Joy’s Spirit Tamer lives up to that promise. This is music to take a bath to, a cottony cloud floating across a cool blue sky as Joy’s breathy vocals and soothing electronic flourishes allow your mind to drift. Certain tracks prioritize one musical mode over others: Lead single “See Us” starts with the peaceful sound of wind chimes before settling into a gentle pop melody, while “Spirit Tamer,” “Sword (I Carry),” and “Candle Prayer” offer up bite-sized nuggets of layered atmospheric bliss. Spirit Tamer was three years in the making for this Chicago-based composer, who shifts away from the psychedelic garage rock of her 2017 EP Gemini Moon into something more healing and serene. But her songwriting is still structured enough to attract fans of earlier dream-pop luminaries like Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star, whose influence is especially prominent in the shimmering, hypnotic guitars that appear throughout the album. This writer’s pets seem to really like it—always a good sign when you’re looking for something holistic. [Katie Rife]

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The Foxies, “Screws

[self-released]

The Foxies’ particular brand of ebullient pop music has always depended on a certain degree of raucous enthusiasm—the sense that singer Julia Lauren would be jumping up and down on the bed and belting these tunes out alone in her room if there weren’t a studio mic in front of her. That infectious sensibility shows no signs of dissipating: Borrowing as much from glam as from rock, the trio has again mined mischievously anthemic gold in the frenetic veins of “Screws,” the Nashville-based group’s latest single. “The liquor on my shelf is makin’ faces at me,” Lauren sings, right before the Incredible-Hulk-goes-jogging thump of the beat kicks into a refrain so perfectly calibrated to high-energy, sugar-rush pop, it feels like it’s always existed. A classic celebration of embracing your idiosyncrasies, the track hearkens back to Warped Tour-era Katy Perry, bubbly and devilish in equal measure with an avowed goal of getting every kid (and inner kid) yelling along in gleeful recognition of feeling overwhelmed—and being okay with that. [Alex McLevy]

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Sufjan Stevens, Convocations 

[Asthmatic Kitty]

Grief tied to familial loss isn’t a new subject for Sufjan Stevens. His critically acclaimed 2015 album Carrie & Lowell allowed the musician to process the death of his mother, Carrie, a couple of years after her passing. When his father died last September, two days after the release of previous release The Ascension, Stevens revisited grief as a creative subject matter. But this time around, the artist decided to explore it through an instrumental album, letting the musical arrangements speak to his emotions. Convocations is a reminder that the Sufjan Stevens fans know and love is still around—even when he’s taking on a project like this. Spanning over two hours, the album’s divided into chapters: Meditations, Lamentations, Revelations, Celebrations, and Incantations. The second track, “Meditation II,” sets the tone, evoking the Christian imagery that Stevens is known for, sounding like angels singing while opening the pearly gates of heaven. It’s simultaneously a joyous occasion and an intense experience, serving as a reminder of death from a Christian perspective: relief at knowing a loved one will find eternal happiness, but immense sadness at losing them from your life. [Tatiana Tenreyro]

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