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.
Slaughter Beach, Dog’s latest feels like a natural evolution for Modern Baseball alum Jake Ewald, whose songwriting has only grown more patient (and more morbid) with each new LP. The moody character sketches of 2016’s Welcome are here, as is the autumnal folk of its follow-up, Birdie, but there’s an undercurrent of menace on Safe And Also No Fear, piercing glimpses of an unstable world. “We drive around our old hometown / They lit that football field on fire in ’99,” he floats on opener “One Down,” a spare ramble punctuated by lonely howls of pedal steel and climactic daggers of distortion. Standout track “Black Oak,” meanwhile, adopts a gothic air as he ambles through shadowy lyrics about staticky phone calls and buried bodies. The song, which sprawls across seven minutes, then segues into an eerie, hypnotic coda that seems to dip in and out of consciousness. It’s exactly the kind of spare, atmospheric song that, once upon a time, you’d never have expected from Ewald, which is, of course, what makes Safe And Also No Fear so exciting. [Randall Colburn]
Angel Olsen started the decade as a bare-bones folk artist. By 2016’s My Woman, she’d become a bandleader dominating the festival circuit. On “All Mirrors,” the title track to My Woman’s forthcoming follow-up, she’s neither. Instead, she’s a master of synths and string arrangements. Placid synths introduce “All Mirrors” and brilliantly tease the song’s dripping-wet, echo-slapped drums and more synths, with all her instruments reinforcing her ever-dramatic, unmistakable voice. It comes off as Lynchian even without the black-and-white music video, in which Olsen stumbles upon a headpiece-donning look-alike and, reborn, unites with her doppelgänger. Her encounter slightly precedes the arrival of galvanizing strings (an element previously unheard in her catalog) that swell into extreme catharsis across the song’s hair-raising final two minutes. “Standing / Facing / All mirrors are erasing,” Olsen wails, but despite the changes, anybody familiar with her will recognize the resolve that’s defined her mourning since day one. [Max Freedman]
On her new collection of pieces for sitar and synthesizer, Baltimore composer (and occasional Grimes affiliate) Ami Dang explores and interprets folktales from South Asia and the Middle East. Throughout, she moves deftly from the beautiful and serene to the vaguely menacing, which she knows is always scarier than the straightforward menace. Standout “Bopoluchi” is based on the Punjab tale of a woman who exacts her revenge on a robber who successfully manipulates her insecurities; she burns him alive in a tree and steals his jewels in the process. A similar sense of compromised triumph permeates Parted Plains. As oscillating waves of synth burble at the edges of these songs, long lines of notes cascade from Dang’s sitar in an elegantly braided cord that wraps around the listener, tightening slowly and begging you to consider the difference between comfort and constraint. [Marty Sartini Garner]
It would be impossible to replicate the effortless charm of “Pretty Girl,” the 2017 lo-fi pop cut that launched Clairo to stardom and currently sits at 37 million views on YouTube. And so, thankfully, on her full-length debut, Immunity, she doesn’t try. After a few false starts with different producers and one-off singles, the songwriter connected with the producer Rostam, who pulls in additional help from Danielle Haim and drum-whisperer Dave Fridmann to fashion a set of consummately hi-fi confessionals. Despite some unlikely flourishes, including harpsichord frills (“Impossible”), country-rock curlicues (“Feel Something”), and witch-house Auto-Tune (“Closer To You”), it all still sounds as immediate and distinctive as her early, viral work. This is thanks in no small part to Clairo’s voice, which is airy in its lower registers, emotive in the higher ones, and as suited to the slow-burn quiet-storm of “Sinking” as it is the walk-off home-run singalong of “Bags.” [Clayton Purdom]