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

5 new releases we love: Angel Olsen aches, Troye Sivan blooms, and more

Angel Olsen (Photo: Kylie Coutts) and Troye Sivan (Photo: Tim Ashton)
Angel Olsen (Photo: Kylie Coutts) and Troye Sivan (Photo: Tim Ashton)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

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.

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Angel Olsen, Whole New Mess

[Jagjaguwar, August 28]

Last year’s All Mirrors was a departure for Angel Olsen. Brimming with synths and strings, the album had a grandiose, novelistic sweep. With Whole New Mess—spare versions of the same songs recorded before All Mirrors—it is as though the singer-songwriter hewed to the edict of short fiction, keeping herself to the fewest elements required. As with Olsen’s earliest work, here her doleful alto goes out ahead of everything else, her voice stretching into a haunting echo that finds each corner of the century-old church in Washington state where Whole New Mess was recorded. The opening line on “Waving, Smiling”—“Found me down, and, honey, you left me down”—is one for the ages, especially in a song about resilience. On “Chance (Forever Love),” when Olsen sings, “It’s hard to say forever love / Forever’s just so far,” it sounds like the kind of wisdom only ghosts know. [Laura Adamczyk]

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Dolly Valentine, How To Be Good
[Self-released, August 21]

An album lazing in the cloudy space between summer and fall, Dolly Valentine’s How To Be Good is a gauzy daydream scored by intricate acoustics, chirping birds, and Leslie Schott’s rich, sunlit vocals. Subtle strings, piano, and handclaps weave in and out of these delicate tracks, some of which rollick (“How To Be Good,” “Stupid Love Song”), where others relax (“Flowers On The Highway,” “My Astrology”). Pervading each is a gentle optimism, an acknowledgement that, for as messy as the past might be, the future is both unwritten and in no rush. “Where do you wanna go?” Schott sings alongside folk artist Field Medic on “Michigan, 1987.” “It’s okay if you don’t know.” In uncertain times, that’s good to remember. [Randall Colburn]

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Tobe Nwigwe, “EAT (feat. Fat)”
[Self-released, August 23]

As you’re listening to Nigerian American Tobe Nwigwe’s relentlessly hype “EAT,” we issue a small challenge: Try not to get thoroughly swept away by its waves of charisma and verve. But please, don’t try too hard. The joyful vibe that the Houston indie-rapper and his magnetic wife, fellow artist Fat, exude in this Lanell Grant-produced track is contagious, evidenced by how the pair feed off of each other’s energy via increasingly pumped-up alternating verses. (They take a moment to celebrate making it on Beyoncé’s radar, and it’s hard not be thrilled for them.) After going viral for his 44-second video “I Need You To (Breonna Taylor),” which called for the arrest of the officers who killed Taylor in March, “EAT” is a vibrant continuation of Nwigwe’s readiness to boldly address the Black American experience with a dirty flow that he dubs “the cheat code.” This time around, he and Fat are simply establishing their Texan roots in the hip-hop landscape as the trendsetters they are. [Shannon Miller]

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Troye Sivan, In A Dream
[Capitol Records, August 21]

On his 2015 debut album Blue Neighbourhood, Troye Sivan sang wistful pop tunes about young love that asked, “What if we ran away?” Five years later, Sivan returns home with In A Dream, having fled to pursue love and fame, but wondering which parts of himself he left behind along the way. It’s his most potent and mature body of work yet, a soulful collection of songs that are reflective and refreshingly vulnerable while avoiding self-pity. Introspective as it may be, In A Dream still plays to Sivan’s indie-pop inclinations, with songs like “Easy” cradling heartache in synthesizers and an irresistible chorus, even punctuating the line “This house is on fire” with an exuberant, “Woo!” Fittingly, the EP maintains a woozy, dreamlike quality, each song a vignette bleeding right into the next, like the way the nostalgic “Rager Teenager!” swells to meet the immediacy of the climactic “In A Dream.” Most ambitious is centerpiece “Stud,” a shape-shifting club track that comments on queer sexual desire, one’s self-image, and how culture warps them both. Having traveled the world and back, Troye Sivan’s no longer the starry-eyed ingénue, but In A Dream is the mark of an artist who has bloomed to their full potential. [Cameron Scheetz]

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Gabrielle Marlena, Lady Comforts
[Breakstone, August 28]

There’s a quiet sense of evolution on Lady Comforts, Gabrielle Marlena’s follow-up to her excellent 2019 release, Manners. There are now gentle electronics supporting the organic instrumentation (led, as always, by her coffeehouse-guitar strumming), and the push into new synth flourishes and skittering beats suits Marlena, offering a distinction from the retro sounds that have previously defined her work. Yet the focus, as always, remains her brutally moving lyrics and rich, mellifluous voice. “Well, fuck—it’s hard to be patient this way,” she sings in “Heart On Display,” and the sentiment rings even more true in our current world than it did when she first penned it. Written following a series of personal traumas, including the end of her parents’ 40-year marriage and her sister being diagnosed with a brain tumor, these songs have a hard-bitten sense of resignation to the pains of the world, yet still processed through the lens of romantic woes and personal fumblings toward acceptance—both external and internal. It’s only four songs long; Lady Comforts leaves the listener wishing Marlena would really bear down and deliver a full album’s worth of tracks. With material this strong, the songwriter keeps leaving us wanting more. [Alex McLevy]

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