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.
Karen O & Danger Mouse, Lux Prima
[BMG, March 15]
Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O seems to have reawakened something in Danger Mouse, because Lux Prima, the debut collaborative project from the two musicians, features the most invigorating compositions and beats arranged by the producer since the 2000s. Longtime listeners will immediately notice a return to his days of evoking the spirit of Ennio Morricone, here layered with a similarly ’70s-indebted embrace of Serge Gainsbourg-esque melodies and sounds, the two fusing into an arthouse movie soundtrack that never was, albeit with a hearty dose of Phil Spector girl-group grooves to break up the more languid and synth-laden mood pieces. For every relaxed and ethereal jam like “Drown” or the title track, there are the bouncy hooks of “Woman” and “Leopard’s Tongue.” O takes to these new musical vistas like an escapee from the 21st century, sounding as earnest and natural in the throwback rhythms and styles as she can sound raw and jagged with her other band. Whatever musical chemistry these two discovered in each other in the studio, it’s working—Lux Prima is a superb collection of retro-cool songs with a timeless appeal. [Alex McLevy]
[Secretly Canadian, March 10]
Shura’s 2016 debut, Nothing’s Real, was a perfect summer pop album, drawing young love and longing in dreamy ’80s hues (and Hughes). Even if it followed its nostalgic influences too closely at times, Nothing’s Real announced the young Londoner as an undeniable talent and a compelling new voice at pop’s queer frontier. In the three years since, Shura’s kept busy with remixes and collaborations, but she finally returned with an original solo song, the hazy sex jam “BKLYNLDN,” on Sunday. Hushed Janet Jackson vocals, warbled synths, a sick minimalist beat—all of Shura’s strengths are here, but updated with muted jazz tones and a more progressive aesthetic overall, a shift reflective of exciting new moves for the artist: to a new label (Secretly Canadian) and to a new city (Brooklyn) to pursue love. “BKLYNLDN” is both the seductive prelude to her trip across the Atlantic—exchanging and obsessing over photos long-distance—and, in the bright turn toward the end, the blissful surrender to going for it with someone Stateside. All bodes extremely well for LP2, whenever it arrives. [Kelsey J. Waite]
William Basinski, On Time Out Of Time
[Temporary Residence Limited, March 8]
It helps, in art, to know when something was an experiment, a dare. Like, “Can you take these 1.3-billion-year-old recordings of black holes and turn them into a soul-stirring avant-garde composition?” William Basinski can, and has. On Time Out Of Time is the result, a glowing sequence of tones that rotate around each other in a series of seven movements. It takes its time; it’s not until the third segment that Basinski’s intention becomes clear, and the black holes begin to sing at each other with voices like ancient synthesizers, but from there it’s all one long deep-space bliss-out. The composer has referred to the piece as what it sounds like “when two black holes fuck”; his gift is not his ability to wrench beauty from the void, but to find life within it. [Clayton Purdom]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Tank And The Bangas, “Ants”
[Verve Forecast, March 7]
There’s a certain duality about Tarriona “Tank” Ball that makes Tank And The Bangas so deeply engaging. Stylistically, “Ants” is a smooth, funk-infused departure from total bass thumper “Spaceships,” released last fall. And yet, the second single from their highly anticipated sophomore album, Green Balloon—due May 3—further confirms Tank’s place as one of our most underrated modern storytellers. Much like the single’s official video, “Ants” illustrates a coming of age unburdened by anything heavier than young love, Lizzie McGuire, and JanSport backpacks. Her ability to lace accessible, poetic bars with rich, heartfelt vocals shows such command over both her artistry and identity as a young, carefree black woman. Listening to this soulful bit of nostalgia feels like sitting on a Louisiana stoop with a fish plate, pondering little more than schoolyard gossip and the mysterious whereabouts of tiny insects. And it’s a necessary sojourn. [Shannon Miller]
Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
[The Flenser, March 15]
It takes a lot for a metal vocalist to stand out from the pack. That’s why Lane Shi of Elizabeth Colour Wheel is so engaging: Her approach is so drastically different from other metal singers that it often feels like the band is playing around her specifically. With its debut album, Nocebo, Elizabeth Colour Wheel offers up a record that’s packed full of memorable riffs, but it’s Shi’s eerie vocals that steer the ship. Songs like “Life Of A Flower” show the band’s dexterity, as it pings between hushed moments and massively cathartic washes, sounding a bit like if Joanna Newsom were singing for Neurosis. And when it’s more direct, as on “Hide Behind (Emmett’s Song),” the band sounds a bit like Gouge Away, before splitting the song wide open in the second half. Unlike many other metal albums that work outside the genre’s confines, Nocebo doesn’t just work in another subgenre and call it a day. Instead, Elizabeth Colour Wheel pushes itself into a space that’s not so easily replicated. [David Anthony]