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.
“Now I’m back where I was when I was 20,” Phil Elverum sings as Microphones In 2020 begins to gain momentum—and not without some reluctance. Elverum has recorded under several pseudonyms over the past couple of decades, with The Microphones simply being the best known; an impromptu show under that moniker in 2019 caused an unexpected furor, leading to this new project that (as Elverum describes it) hopes to “break the spell of nostalgia and make something perennial and enduring.” Built around a hypnotic acoustic strum that bobs and swells amid fuzzy electric guitar and sharp cymbals, Elverum wanders the chambers of his memory in dreamlike vignettes, trying to figure out what it was, exactly, that made his late teens and early 20s—the time when he and The Microphones were one and the same—so special. The effect of letting this single 44-minute composition wash over you (and you do need to let it wash over you) is like setting out in a canoe at dawn, the waves gently rocking as the fog burns off in the morning sun. [Katie Rife]
Kesha stunned casual listeners when she emerged from her lengthy legal battle against her former producer Dr. Luke with the emotional and vocally impressive “Praying” in 2017. It was a drastic diversion from the party-girl persona she’d projected while talk-singing through the first half of the decade. Kesha has said the crazy makeup and dollar sign in her name was all a marketing concept thrust upon her, but her latest single off High Road, “Little Bit Of Love,” gives a little insight to how Ke$ha was perhaps just Kesha dialed up to 11. With lyrics like “Babe, I know that it’s late / I know that I’m drunk / I haven’t had a night like this in months,” the song could fit right in with her debut single, “TiK ToK”, but the track and kooky music video are much more lighthearted, evoking a bit of Lily Allen mixed with the best of Katy Perry. Perhaps this is the Kesha we’d have gotten all along if left to her own devices. Regardless of where she is in her evolution as an artist, it’s clear she’s finally having a good time. [Patrick Gomez]
While Fast Romantics may have garnered comparisons to Elvis Costello for tracks like “Julia” (understandably so—it’s hard to not hear more than a little Costello in singer Matt Angus’ throaty howl of a voice), new album Pick It Up mines deep veins of pop-rock from throughout the ’60s and ’70s. The result is a record stocked front-to-back with lighters-in-the-air anthems, from the McCartney-esque uplift of opener “Pick It Up” on through to the sha-na-na sock-hop bounce of closer “Do No Wrong.” The band stakes out an appealing middle ground between the caffeinated raucousness of Los Campesinos! and the fey up-with-people sing-alongs of The Polyphonic Spree, creating stately pop both spiritual and grounded. The odd acoustic-driven ballad like “Top Of The Mountain,” with its electronic rhythms, helps keep it from bleeding together too much, but ultimately this is an album of inviting mid-tempo pop inspired by the old-school masters of the craft—and it does them proud. [Alex McLevy]
Less than a year after dropping their exquisitely violent Morbid Stuff, the Toronto punks of PUP chucked a grenade into 2020 with “Anaphylaxis,” a bruising slice of sinus horror that rests comfortably in their larger oeuvre. This week, the four-piece returned with something only the slightest touch more tender: a roaring cover of Grandaddy’s 1997 single “A.M. 180,” a song drummer Zack Mykula calls “a lily in an otherwise barren valley.” The chugging distortion puncturing the original is brought to the forefront here, while its soft, blooping keys manifest as a looping riff that’s all sharp edges. It’s most assuredly a PUP song, but the band resists veering into its trademark screams; Grandaddy’s chill lyrics—“We’ll sit for days and talk about things important to us, like whatever”—call for clarity. [Randall Colburn]
A Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion team-up was not only kismet, but also long overdue. “WAP”—an anthemic salute to total, unabashed sexual agency—is a fitting romp for the smoldering duo and the latest example of their pure nerve as growing hip-hop acts. Equipped with little more than subwoofer-busting bass, Cardi and Megan pull zero punches with their straightforward delivery and collective vibrancy. Though both artists have long established penchants for a thoroughly adult sound, the overt raunchiness of the tune already has some reminiscing about the early days of Lil’ Kim, Trina, Foxy Brown, and Missy Elliott—fellow female MCs who didn’t shy away from expressions of desire. And when faced with a male-dominated industry that still unfairly judges women entertainers for daring to settle into their sexuality, “WAP” exudes a spirit that is as rebellious as it is fun. [Shannon Miller]