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

St. Vincent dances back, and Arab Strap resurfaces after 16 years: 5 new releases we love

St. Vincent’s Annie Clark (Photo: Zackery Michael) and Arab Strap (Photo: Kat Gollack)
St. Vincent’s Annie Clark (Photo: Zackery Michael) and Arab Strap (Photo: Kat Gollack)

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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St. Vincent, “Pay Your Way In Pain

[Loma Vista]

Maybe it’s the opening seconds of jaunty barroom piano that throw you off, but “Pay Your Way In Pain” continues surprising. Somehow both a wholly unexpected party and completely in keeping with Annie Clark’s musical evolution over the past few years, this funky, layered clutter of synths and samples urges listeners to the dance floor—the icy electronic sheen of Masseduction has been replaced by individual seduction. There are some clear artistic debts owed here—Prince around the time he turned himself into an unpronounceable symbol, and Bowie in his Young Americans phase both come to mind—and longtime fans of St. Vincent may well be put off by the grimier, messier musical aesthetic she’s embracing. But that’s also what makes it exciting; losing the brittle, jagged edges that so often defined her previous work, the lead single from forthcoming album Daddy’s Home marks a stylistic turn that was always already there, hiding in plain sight, in the abrasively soulful lacerations that cut across even her most precise arrangements. But now, that freewheeling party has arrived in full. [Alex McLevy]

Arab Strap, As Days Get Dark

[Rock Action]

Like Batman springing into action at the behest of the Bat-Signal, Arab Strap has looked upon the relentlessly bleak, weirdly horny miasma of life in 2021 and said, “Our time has come, motherfuckers.” The profanity is intentional, as Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton return with their first album in 16 years as neurotic and foul-mouthed as ever. As Days Get Dark is vintage Arab Strap in both lyrics and music, blending doom-laden folk guitars with sharp drum machine beats, romantic strings, and post-punk bass grooves to soundtrack dark tales of compulsive masturbation, putrefying corpses, and the redemptive power of love (and lust). Middle age suits Arab Strap, whose hedonism has always faintly smelled of death; As Days Get Dark is populated with sordid characters trying to hang on to their youth, like the aging playboy who tells himself, “Mick Jagger does it, and he’s older than me,” in “I Was Once A Weak Man.” For longtime fans, it’s an electrifying return to form; for new listeners, welcome to the filthy alleyway blowjob of the mind. [Katie Rife]

Laura Mvula, 1/f 

[Atlantic Records]

After a five-year hiatus, British soul-pop wonder Laura Mvula returns with a humble but positively cosmic collection of retrofitted classics. 1/f reimagines a few of her previous tracks: “Sing To The Moon,” “Show Me Love,” and “Green Garden.” Laced with synths and sexy licks of bass, the once-frenetic “Green Garden” feels like an especially made-over effort eight years after the original, converting the modern poppy tune to an ’80s-inspired, dance-worthy jaunt. The fourth and final entry, “I’m Still Waiting,” is a gauzy cover of a Diana Ross classic that honors the sophistication of the original while adding Mvula’s own angelic spin. Although a quartet of songs after such an extensive break feels like such a tease, it’s enough to confirm that the downtime has done nothing to diminish her mighty vocals. This new vintage filter only reenergizes her already vibrant discography and flexes her utter malleability: 1/f is an otherworldly showcase of Mvula’s dreamy tone, a voice fit for any generation. [Shannon Miller]

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Prism B!tch, Perla

[Self-released]

There’s a fierce, rough quality to Prism B!tch’s Perla. From the almost desperate call-and-response vocals of opener “In N Out” to the inhaled breaths you can hear just before the refrain of closer “One Shot” (a superb song that recalls nothing so much as Veruca Salt’s American Thighs), the tracks off this Albuquerque-based quartet’s debut album maintain an engaging sense of indie-rock purity, even as the production occasionally polishes it to a more radio-friendly sheen. The band is still finding its sound—the music straddles numerous genres and styles with varying degrees of success, from Americana to blues to country to anthemic alt-rock, but each one finds some worthy element, most often in the ace harmonies and alternating melodies of the band’s three singers. Some of it doesn’t work; the clunky shift between sunny pop and hard-rock riffing on “Too High” feels forced, and the blues-rock swagger of “II” falls flat. But when the band concentrates on its masterful command of catchy indie rock and lighters-in-the air sing-alongs, like “Heathers” and “Starlight,” the potential of Prism B!tch shines through, with a magnetism that transcends any stylistic weak points. [Alex McLevy]

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Japanese Breakfast, “Be Sweet

[Dead Oceans]

Michelle Zauner’s albums under the moniker Japanese Breakfast have been lyrically heavy, dealing with grief and toxic relationships. But Zauner announced this week that her new album, Jubilee, will be “about joy,” heavily leaning towards pop. Any Japanese Breakfast fan knows that Zauner’s a pro at tapping into her pop sensibilities (just look at “Everybody Wants To Love You” or “Machinist”). Her lead single for Jubilee, “Be Sweet,” feels even more playful than her previous pop singles, slanting heavily towards ’80s-inspired synth-pop, with a very fun The X-Files music video, to boot. The lyrics are just as sweet as its title too, about wanting to believe in a relationship and having her partner do their part to make up for their mistakes. It’s a track that recalls joyful moments from the Before Times; it’s the kind of song you can easily imagine your friends belting out at karaoke or dancing to at a wedding. For an album focused on joy, this is a jubilant sneak peek at what’s to come. [Tatiana Tenreyro]

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