Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Chika
Chika
Photo: Kristy Sparow (Getty Images)

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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Chika, Industry Games EP

[Warner Records, March 13]

Any attempt to place Alabama rapper Chika into a neatly defined box is a fool’s errand. Her latest EP Industry Games is a tightly rendered effort that’s as all-encompassing as she is: It glides with the homestyle ease of Southern rap while deploying scathing, razor-sharp wordplay, all of it held together with lilting, soulful vocals befitting of such a passionate artist. The title track is a bouncing, bass-thumping indictment of a market flooded with the bare minimum, which she slays not with empty threats, but promising lyricism and a breathless flow. To call her delivery “effortless” is understandable, but kind of misses the point: Even if her unflappable swagger gives the impression that she could do this in her sleep, Chika wants you to recognize the time and effort she’s invested in the craft, which sets her so far apart from other performers who come and go. In just seven tracks—with soundscapes that range from old-school funk to gently warped lo-fi grooves with a hint of gospel—Chika manages to showcase just how much of an asset she is to a landscape in dire need of something different and authentic. [Shannon Miller]

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Muncie Girls, B-Sides The Point

[Buzz Records]

It’s been two years since Muncie Girls’ Fixed Ideals LP demonstrated how the pop-punk group was moving more in the direction of pop, embracing gentler melodies and mellower rhythms along with their mastery of sing-along rock catharsis. But now, after an extended hiatus and the release of singer Lande Hekt’s solo work, the Exeter-based three-piece is back with a potent reminder that when the group stomps on the pedals and unleashes the adrenaline, there are few acts as compelling. A six-song EP composed of tracks from the Fixed Ideals sessions that were left off the album, these new songs kick off with “Blankets,” containing the most frenetic verse the band has yet composed. But through the shiny, overdriven “Rain,” the jagged riffing of “Idolise,” and even the stately but slow-burn anthem of “Blind,” Hekt’s lyrics remain a superb blend of personal and political, capturing the emotional release of her themes and narratives while continually pulling in the larger concerns of the day to lend a vital pulse to the proceedings. B-Sides The Point puts the fist-pumping rock and roll front and center, and proves the group’s scattered B-sides are better than most bands’ strongest offerings. [Alex McLevy]

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The Districts, You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere

[Fat Possum]

If you want a reminder of how good early-aughts indie rock sounded, The Districts’ You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere is here to comfort your ears. The band’s latest starts with “My Only Ghost,” an acoustic track reminiscent of Yellow House-era Grizzly Bear, while “Hey Jo” does the best imitation yet of Phil Spector’s wall of sound. This being a Districts record, there are rousing vocals, like the call of “Glory, glory, hallelujah” on the track “Velour and Velcro,” and bandleader Rob Grote does a good Robert Smith impression on “Changing.” As a bonus for indie rock nerds, Dave Fridmann (of MGMT and The Flaming Lips fame) mixes it all with his signature layer of hiss. You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere gets better as Grote gets weirder, as he does on the horn-assisted “Dancer,” and the Evangelicals-like blast of “Sidecar.” The bounce and youth of the band’s 2017 breakout Popular Manipulations has been substituted with the cynicism that comes with hustling a record for some 200-odd shows. Such a follow-up is usually self-absorbed; thankfully, the Districts know there’s more gold in the melodies. [Matt Sigur]

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My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

[Nuclear Blast, March 6]

My Dying Bride have been the most gothic of gothic metal acts for 30 years, never straying far from their death-doom roots even as they quietly, restlessly refine themselves. Their 14th studio album The Ghost of Orion finds the Bride as morose and crushing as they’ve ever been, with a career-best performance from vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe that—especially when cobwebbed by mournful violin lines—beautifully accentuates the music’s dreary Byronic quality. He’s always had the louche air of a wine-drunk, wildly horny Shakespearean actor, but on The Ghost of Orion he’s both more technically sound (see the harmonizing on “Tired of Tears”) and emotionally sincere. Still, the stylized Gothic sadness of My Dying Bride’s catalog is an endless parade of weeping, counterpoint guitar lines and faux-decadent poetry, and you are either on board for that or you aren’t—this is proudly, resolutely “uncool” music. The Ghost of Orion, in ever-so-slightly refining the band’s overwrought gothic metal, might convert a few new children of the night. [Astrid Budgor]

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Peter Bjorn And John, Endless Dream

[INGRID, March 13]

Swedish trio Peter (Morén), Bjorn (Yttling) and John (Eriksson) have been belting out pop tunes for over twenty years now, culminating in their ninth studio release, Endless Dream. PB&J is best known for their ubiquitous 2006 hit, “Young Folks,” which presumably has had them whistling their way to the bank ever since. On Endless Dream, intro track “Music” is an up-tempo ballad awash with the clinking of cymbals and lively percussion. The group sings, “Turn it up, turn it up, turn it up and I’ll be there,” a call to action that seemingly prepares us for the left-of-center indie-pop rollercoaster that lies ahead. But the album as a whole doesn’t deliver on this sense of sunny ebullience. Highlight “Drama King” sports an almost ennui-inspired cool, mumbled lyrics spilling over staccato bass lines that feel equally fit for a jazz lounge or teenage bedroom. But there’s a larger feeling of sedation permeating Endless Dream, which makes for a somewhat scattered listen. The sweeping sense of listlessness feels more like the yawn of a long night that bleeds into the morning, without ever quite remembering how one turned into the other. [Adam Isaac Itkoff]

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