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.
Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
It’s safe to say When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is the first album to announce itself with a brief spoken-word interlude in which the star artist cackles and shares she’s removed her Invisalign device. With apologies to Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next, it’s also safe to say that Billie Eilish’s 14-song debut is the pop album to beat in 2019. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is bracingly original and brimming with confidence—one feature of “Bad Guy,” which shape-shifts between boiling electro and woozy trap, is Eilish tossing off an eye-rolling “duh”—as it tackles fear, frustration, depression, and relationship woes with brutal honesty. The album’s sound mirrors this emotional tumult by collapsing decades of styles into a sonic landscape that lurches between hellish synth-pop, brittle piano ballads, and nods to ’90s rock and hip-hop. On the Fiona Apple-esque “Xanny,” Eilish sounds like a jazz singer entertaining an indifferent dinner crowd; “All The Good Girls Go To Hell” echoes Twenty One Pilots’ glitchy soul-searching; and “When The Party’s Over” is a mournful torch song. The rare hyped release that’s worth the buzz. [Annie Zaleski]
Shafiq Husayn, The Loop
Shafiq Husayn is one-third of Sa-Ra Creative Partners, perhaps the most influential R&B collective you’ve never heard of. During its brief heyday in the mid-to-late aughts, the production team coined a blend of hip-hop sleaze and jazz-fusion consciousness that fueled L.A.’s emergence as an oasis of progressive soul experimentation. Separately or together, its members have worked with John Legend, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Ty Dolla Sign, J Dilla, Bilal, Thundercat, and too many others to name here. Husayn’s first solo project in a decade, The Loop, embodies his onetime group’s aesthetic. Vocals are submerged into polyphonic choruses, arrangements stretch out with the languorous pace of a Roy Ayers excursion, and Shafiq speak-sings in a deep baritone like a late-night personality jock. Famous acts waft in and out of the sound: Erykah Badu contributes to “Mrs. Crabtree,” a nursery-like indictment of school teachers who whitewash history; Anderson Paak settles into the crackling gangsta funk of “It’s Better For You”; and Flying Lotus adds digital glitch effects to “Walking Round Town.” The overall effect is less reliant on bold-faced names, however, than the intoxicating lushness of Husayn’s future soul vibes. [Mosi Reeves]
Beth Gibbons & The Polish National Radio Symphony, Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3
Portishead singer Beth Gibbons emerges from 11 years of silence with Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3, an ambitious classical performance with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra that was actually recorded back in November of 2014. Subtitled “Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs,” the piece is divided into three movements, each featuring a single female voice singing in Polish from three heartbreaking texts: first, a 15th-century lament of the Virgin Mary; second, a message found written on the wall of a Gestapo cell at the end of WWII; and third, a Silesian folk song from the perspective of a mother searching for her dead son. Górecki’s work, a pioneering composition of the contemporary classical genre since dubbed “holy minimalism,” is typically performed by operatic sopranos, making this an especially ambitious project for Gibbons, a contralto pop singer. And although her performance isn’t technically perfect, the vulnerability (and the vibrato) in her voice adds a deeply human emotional layer to an already sublime work. [Katie Rife]
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Marvin Gaye, You’re The Man
Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is a perfection of the album form, a document of the artist on a spectacular creative high, pushing the boundaries of his audience and sound while illuminating dark political and social realities in America. And You’re The Man, the long-shelved collection of songs Gaye recorded immediately after it in 1972, is very much an extension of his train of thought at the time, both lyrically and musically. The product, however, is rougher around the edges and less focused, not least because it’s presented in this late release with a hodgepodge of unrelated ideas (including two Christmas tracks from the same era). Still, we’re talking about Marvin Gaye here, surrounded by some of the best players Detroit and L.A. had to offer, so even You’re The Man’s most underbaked songs are worth hearing for the jaw-dropping musicianship. In particular, don’t miss Salaam Remi’s remixes of “My Last Chance” and “Symphony,” which, true to Gaye’s spirit, are impossibly warm and radiant. [Kelsey J. Waite]
There’s a fierce urgency to the second full-length album from Belgian trio Brutus. The group still sits comfortably on the timeline of assaultive hardcore-meets-post-rock acts from Refused on through to White Lung, and Nest polishes its punishing riffs and genre-bending explorations into a potent and cohesive whole. The most notable development is the degree to which drummer and singer Stefanie Mannaerts has developed her powerhouse vocals in between records. Whereas her lyrics and delivery on the previous album occasionally felt like an afterthought to the spacious, almost shoegaze-ified metal riffs and pounding rhythms, they now take center stage just as much as the airtight instrumentation, compelling and raw in her full-throated proclamations. (With lines as grandiose as “Our world, it’s gone / Did we ever grieve or cry it out?” from leadoff single “War,” a band needs to provide some seriously anthemic backing, and Brutus comes through in spades.) Mannaerts now confidently sounds like a frontperson, not just a singer, and Nest’s shredding bombast gains an affecting emotional core on which to hook its operatic wall of sound. [Alex McLevy]