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.
Brittany Howard, Jaime
At the height of Alabama Shake’s success, distinctive frontwoman and lead guitarist, Brittany Howard, stepped away to embark on her own intense creative journey. Pressing pause on the Grammy-winning retro-soul outfit was, undoubtedly, incredibly risky, but Howard is not an artist who likes to remain too comfortable. Her debut solo effort, Jaime (named after her late sister), mimics that tendency: Nothing about this richly vulnerable collection—neither in sound nor content—feels comfortable, as Howard mines some of her most personal experiences with racism, religion, love, sexuality, and politics. It’s impossible to relegate Jaime to a singular genre as Howard glides from staticky electronic beats, to garage funk, to a mildly familiar, bluesy soul that has always felt like home base. And yet, there is a persistent air of urgency that binds all 11 tracks together, whether it be an urgency to reconcile her new relationship with religion in “He Loves Me” or an urgent plea for compassion in the politically charged “13th Century Metal.” But it’s the stripped-down, deeply tender “Short And Sweet” that quietly buries itself deep in your spirit and just sweetly lingers. [Shannon Miller]
M83 songs are at their best when they’re at their most cinematic, whether it’s the Blade Runner neo-noir of the project’s early work or the John Hughes nostalgia of its mid-period. (This might explain why Anthony Gonzalez has spent most of this decade doing explicit soundtrack work, rather than exploring something resembling a third act.) The new DSVII—ostensibly a sequel to 2007’s slight ambient collection Digital Shades Vol. 1—finds a new muse in retro video games, crafting a suite of synthesizer hymns indebted to the mythic sweep of 16-bit fantasies. It’s at its best at its most explicitly referential, as on the digitized choral climax of “Hell Riders” and the sweltering piano threnody “Taifun Glory,” both of which conjure a Squaresoft RPG that never was. The result is nowhere near the heights of M83’s earlier albums—which still sound just as good in 2019—but, if you have, for example, worn out your capacity for listening to the Fez soundtrack, you’ll find DSVII a welcome and artful hour of overworld-exploration anthems. Just remember to hit pause during the cutscenes. [Clayton Purdom]
Hiss Golden Messenger, Terms Of Surrender
Terms of Surrender renders M.C. Taylor in nerve endings. Even for Hiss, Terms is emotionally bare, with Taylor in a mode of directness—he addresses family members by name on multiple songs—that gives the impression it was an essential element to his survival. The songwriting doesn’t sprawl as much as it’s wont to do, and at times Taylor’s almost uncomfortably open—over the wistful float of “Down At The Uptown,” a line like “It was a real live world, and I wanna live in it” crushes absolutely. In a statement, Taylor called Terms his therapy and his church, and catharsis comes thick on the serpentine “Whip,” with its transcendent instrumental freak-out, and the raucous “I Need A Teacher.” As he wearily unravels the glowing title track, there’s no indication comfort is coming, but you get the feeling he always knew it wouldn’t be part of the bargain. Terms makes peace with that. [Matt Williams]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Vivian Girls, Memory
While noise-pop bands Wavves, No Age, and Sleigh Bells focused on slapdash volume and metrics of trendiness in the late 2000s, Vivian Girls were busy solidifying what made them them: a sense of self, an indifference toward fame, and a nagging need to be the best they could. Since reforming following a five-year hiatus, the trio give off the air that nothing’s changed. While on paper quite a lot has changed, like playing in other bands and starting families, not much has in their music—and thank god, because Vivian Girls nailed the beauty of low-key noise-pop early on. It’s the little details that make Memory a polished version of their original sound: hazy vocal harmonies on “Something To Do,” an ominous new-wave vibe in “I’m Far Away,” the way they build intensity while remaining quiet on “Lonely Girl.” It’s wonderful to have guitarist Cassie Ramone, bassist Katy Goodman, and drummer Ali Koehler working together again, if only because it sounds so instinctual. [Nina Corcoran]
Pixies, Beneath The Eyrie
Black Francis doesn’t have the same fire in his belly that he did as the 22-year-old whose shrieks launched a thousand bands with 1987’s Come On Pilgrim, but for the third Pixies album since its 2004 reformation, that’s actually a good thing. The prior two—2014’s Indie Cindy and 2016’s Head Carrier—suffered by comparison to the band’s original run of albums, aiming for the fierceness of youth but sounding winded in the process. Beneath The Eyrie comes on more subtly, though with songs that have more staying power. To say it’s more mature sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it isn’t: Grown-up just sounds more authentic for a 54-year-old recent divorcee. (You don’t have to listen super closely to hear that event’s influence on the lyrics here.) Which isn’t to say Under The Eyrie is a snoozer, either: “Catfish Kate” is an undersea adventure that slinks and wails before giving way to a poppy chorus, while “On Graveyard Hill” has that Doolittle crunch, though a more refined air. Like the rest of Eyrie, it nods to the classic years without bowing to them. [Josh Modell]