Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Carly Rae Jepsen and Jeff Rosenstock
Carly Rae Jepsen and Jeff Rosenstock
Photo: Shirlaine Forrest (WireImage via Getty Images), Christine Mackie

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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Carly Rae Jepsen, Dedicated Side B

[Schoolboy/Interscope Records, May 21]

Carly Rae Jepsen could have set a dangerous precedent for herself in August 2016 when she released Emotion: Side B. To put out an immaculate album of pop, only to follow it up with an arguably better collection of album-worthy outtakes? Some would call it an unlikely coup, but, for Jepsen, it’s now a tradition. On the eve of a bummer of a summer, the pop star has released Dedicated: Side B, a selection of sparkling, resilient songs left over from the production of 2019’s Dedicated. Any misguided doubts that she could deliver yet again are swiftly cast aside by opener “This Love Isn’t Crazy,” which hoots (yes, hoots) its way into your brain before securing its rightful place among Jepsen’s most danceable tracks. From there, the album dreamily floats through nostalgic nods to ’70s and ’80s pop, employing Jepsen’s familiar stable of collaborative producers, including Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes on the disco-funk inflected standout “This Is What They Say.” As ever, the artist’s music lets listeners feel every tug of the heartstrings; by once again assembling album scraps into a worthy successor of their own, Dedicated: Side B serves as a reminder that no emotion is invalid—there’s so such thing as a “throwaway track” when everything comes from the heart. [Cameron Scheetz]

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Jeff Rosenstock, No Dream

[Polyvinyl, May 20]

How is it possible that Jeff Rosenstock sounds even more immediate, intense, and vital than he did the last time around? He already surprise-dropped one album of masterful post-millennial howls against the dying of the light with 2018’s Post-, but with this past week’s unannounced release of No Dream, he’s delivering anthems of such breakneck explosive force, it somehow makes other punk rock feel stolid by comparison. From the adrenaline-fueled speed-punk of minute-long opener “NO TIME” on through to the fast-then-faster-then-slow epic closer “Ohio Tpke,” he sounds infuriated, aggravated, frustrated, depressed, worried, and scared, all through music that blends half a dozen rock genres into one heady stew of catharsis. The endlessly repeated “You will not control” from mid-album anthem “fame” serves as a skeleton key of sorts for the record around it, which excoriates the sorry state of our republic and the sorry state of our interpersonal lives in equal measure, a rare case of inner and outer chaos meshing all too well in our current nightmare. But god, it feels good to let him soundtrack it. [Alex McLevy]

Jay Som, “Lucy” / Soccer Mommy, “I Think You’re Alright

[Loma Vista Recordings, May 21]

Soccer Mommy, the outfit behind this year’s excellent Color Theory, has launched a new single series featuring the likes of Beabadoobee, Beach Bunny, and MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden. The first installment, which dropped this week, features Soccer Mommy and bedroom-pop whiz Jay Som trading lo-fi takes on each other’s tunes. Soccer Mommy’s cover of “I Think You’re Alright” is a shadowy, shades-down spin on Jay Som’s sunny original that layers longing into its lovestruck lyrics. Jay Som’s stab at “Lucy” is even more atmospheric, folding brazen synths and a wash of moonlit fog over the woozy melodies of Soccer Mommy’s Color Theory standout. The bummer vibes are strong here, yes, but it’s a comfort to know we’re not the only ones spiraling in self-isolation. [Randall Colburn]

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NCT 127, Neo Zone: The Final Round—The 2nd Album Repackage

[SM Entertainment, May 19]

Just over two months after the release of their career-defining second LP, Neo Zone, South Korean pop juggernauts NCT 127 have returned with a souped-up reissue, complete with four additional tracks. “Punch,” an unabashedly noisy electro-rock jolt of energy leads the new round of music as the follow-up title track to the thrilling “Kick It.” “NonStop” builds upon their proficiency with EDM-leaning sounds by using momentum-building drum machines that add a strong pulse. But it’s “Make Your Day”—the soulful ballad crooned by Doyoung, Jungwoo, Jaehyun, Haechan, and Taeil—that is this reissue’s crown jewel. Breaking away from the group’s usual whir of garage beats and hip-hop, the romantic track soars with little more than a piano, late-arriving strings, and smooth, powerful vocals. As NCT 127 continues to flex its impressive handling of any genre that is thrown its way, Neo Zone: The Final Round only adds more breadth to an already eclectic collection of music. [Shannon Miller]

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Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, “Rain On Me

[Interscope, May 22]

Lady Gaga feat. Beyoncé? Fantastic. Beyoncé feat. Lady Gaga? Not as fantastic. Mother Monster collaborations are no guaranteed success, but Gaga’s new duet with Ariana Grande is a Pride party distilled in a single song. “Rain On Me” kicks off with a classic Gaga verse as it ramps up to a chorus that sounds like it’s already been remixed for the dance floor. The song—off Gaga’s upcoming Chromatica (May 29)—is at its best once Grande joins in, her airy vocals a nice contrast to Gaga’s talk-singing and the pumping bass. Bonus: no uncomfortable sexual tension like with Gaga’s last duet. [Patrick Gomez]

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