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.
FKA Twigs, “Cellophane”
FKA Twigs’ 2014 debut album, LP1, reshaped pop music. It showcased a fully-formed artistic polymath unafraid to diverge from common-time percussive patterns, who crafted songs equally minimal and overpowering. She followed it with the astounding, trunk-rattling EP M3LL155X in 2015 and the cautiously joyous 2016 ballad “Good To Love.” This week’s “Cellophane,” Twigs’ first song since, mournfully reignites the sparsity of “Good To Love.” This is Twigs at her most devastating, where chiffon whispers, yearning falsettos, and ghastly vocal fragments meet slowly dissipating pianos and tense bass drums. The song’s video, too, is another breakthrough from the established visual mastermind. As Twigs pole-dances, fights demons, and spends more than a full minute dramatically falling into a primordial clay pit, she emerges from romantic tragedy (“All wrapped in cellophane / The feelings we had”) a stronger figure, an artist teasing a second album potentially as revolutionary as her first. [Max Freedman]
Nick Murphy, Run Fast Sleep Naked
Nick Murphy is king of the bleeding heart. He lets us know in plain speech just seconds into his new album, Run Fast Sleep Naked, as a prologue; practically a warning label on the outside of a box wrapped in scarlet red text: “Fragile: Handle with Care.” This tenderness and vulnerability permeate Murphy’s latest release, his first full-length since 2014’s Built On Glass under his former just-add-water pop-star moniker, Chet Faker. While the new album reaffirms Murphy’s inherent knack for exceptional songwriting with tightly constructed alt-folk hits like “Sanity” and “Dangerous,” it also displays a man forcibly caught between both worlds and personas. On “Some People,” Murphy’s gentle crooning devolves into a thumping, glitchy soundscape which feels violently dissonant for the sake of it. “Believe (Me)” seems to borrow from Bon Iver’s 22, A Million where yearning via vocoder heightens emotional pitch, but sometimes at the cost of rhythm itself. Ultimately, Run Fast Sleep Naked is Murphy’s unbridled catharsis, vacillating between starry-eyed epiphany and startling heartache. It’s a bumpy ride, but still one worth taking. [Adam Isaac Itkoff]
Aldous Harding, Designer
Aldous Harding’s 2017 album, Party, was an intensely spare affair that mostly subverted its title, feeling more like a party of one staying in with the curtains drawn. At the same time, it confirmed Harding as one of folk’s most captivating performers, with a singular vocal command and a knack for surreally stirring lyrics. With producer John Parish (PJ Harvey) back behind the boards, third LP Designer throws the shades open with fuller, bolder arrangements that cast Harding’s off-kilter charm and skill in full, glorious daylight. From the outset, Designer feels more ambitious: Harding’s tender lead vocal on opener “Fixture Picture” is complimented by panoramic CSNY harmonies and twisting string parts, while her playful subversions of form on “Designer” are backed by a warm blend of hand drums, wind instruments (or Mellotron?), and xylophone. More than just capture the performer this time, Designer reflects her surplus of personality. It’s thrilling to witness an artist this at-home in their craft. [Kelsey J. Waite]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Schoolboy Q, Crash Talk
It’s been three years since Schoolboy Q released his beloved, sprawling Blank Face LP—so what’s he been up to? To hear him tell it, descending into an abyss of downers and weed, recording and discarding some three albums in a Calabasas myopia. But Crash Talk’s not about the fall; it’s about the bounce-back. Q’s still an oddball MC, his delivery rounding into phlegmatic leers and unexpected yips, but here it’s channeled into sober ruminations (“Black Folk”) and gliding, night-on-the-town largesse (“Lies”) as much as, you know, songs about fucking (“Chopstix”). Aside from Pusha T, no other rapper has benefited as much from hip-hop’s newfound obsession with concision; at under 40 minutes, this is Q’s shortest effort by a mile. Some will miss his traditional late-album, acid-fried wanderlust, but its absence signals a trimmer, more focused MC: both hands on the wheel and barreling down the highway. [Clayton Purdom]
Mountain Goats, In League With Dragons
The Mountain Goats earned some nerd cred when they announced In League With Dragons at a Wizards Of The Coast event, the D&D makers’ headquarters serving as the perfect setting for an album that began as “a rock opera about a besieged seaside community called Riversend ruled by a benevolent wizard.” That narrative, though, only threads through about half of the finished product, and some of In League With Dragons’ best songs are either entirely divorced from the fantasy elements or only tangentially related—“Passaic 1975,” for example, is a lovely, heart-swelling ode to a young Ozzy Osborne, while baroque Seven For Australia sequel “Going Invisible 2” finds transcendence in fire that could very well have spilled from a dragon’s mouth. In League With Dragons remains a vibrant listen, though, with the squealing saxophone of “Younger” and the gnarly riffage of “Cadaver Sniffing Dog” giving a serrated edge to the album’s stately base of piano and percussion. And, as he’s proven in songs about Beowulf’s Grendel and, believe it or not, Super Mario’s Toad, songwriter John Darnielle knows how to mine genuine resonance from even the most ridiculous characters, his troubled wizard exuding pastel shades of hope at the “huge wings blotting out the sun” of the melancholic title track. [Randall Colburn]