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.
One of the great pleasures of David Berman’s music has always been his ability to marry extreme pathos with ironic distance—the pain all the more convincing when trying to mask itself. A decade since the Silver Jews’ dissolve, and recording under a new name, Berman is still Berman, but with some of the veneer chipped away. On “That’s Just The Way I Feel” and “Maybe I’m The Only One For Me,” he threads the needle between self-acceptance and resignation, boogie-woogie piano and an outlaw-country shrug lifting up lines like the former’s “You see the life I live is sickening / I spent a decade playing chicken with oblivion.” Later, the song winkingly devolves into a list of place names and the misfortune that has befallen the speaker in each. In “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son” and “Nights That Won’t Happen,” Berman’s lyrics and instrumentation are barer and more vulnerable. Death and dying, loneliness and isolation—it’s not always the kind of thing you can two-step to, but it’s still a fine time feeling miserable with David Berman. [Laura Adamczyk]
To understand the appeal of Westside Gunn, he may be better heard than described. The Buffalo, New York rapper decorates sleepy sampled cuts with grunts and howls, imitates gunshots, and rhymes in a nasally, high-pitched voice. He rhymes almost exclusively about street-life clichés: slanging drugs, posing in designer threads, and enjoying the company of multiple women. And yes, there are plenty of wrestling metaphors, too. At his best—and Flygod Is An Awesome God may be his best project since 2016’s Flygod—he constructs the equivalent of an ’80s Hong Kong crime flick, all stylized camera angles, grizzled mean-mugs, and fashionable surfaces. It’s remarkable how Westside Gunn seamlessly blends lumpy, thuggish sentiments with sonic elegance on standout tracks like “Lunchin” (with an excellent cameo from poet and frequent collaborator Keisha Plum) and “Ferragamo Funeral.” Meanwhile the bleary-sounding “Lakers Vs Rockets” is as ugly-beautiful as a wet tenement corner. Great production from Madlib (“Gunnlib”), the Alchemist (“Sensational Sherri”), Daringer, and other dusty-loop excavators certainly help. [Mosi Reeves]
Sobriety sounds good on Bleached. Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough?, the group’s third full-length, is its first since sisters Jessie and Jennifer Clavin quit drinking, and that newfound sense of promise saturates the album both musically and lyrically. The repetitive failings of 2016’s Welcome The Worms are gone, replaced by an adventurous and diverse collection of songs that may nod at the group’s garage-rock beginnings, but largely casts off the dirty guitar riffs for shimmering ’80s pop-rock. Songs like “Awkward Phase” and “Daydream” may retain the bold crunch and dance rhythms of years past, but these moments are exceptions to the glossy, groovy new rule. “Somebody Dial 911” is the best track Duran Duran never wrote, and single “Hard To Kill” showcases a dance-beat through-line to the record that’s as much disco rave as it is angular Madchester bounce. The evolution from raw to polished is a common one for rock bands, but on Bleached, it sounds positively inspired. [Alex McLevy]
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Few other new releases capture the steaminess and gloom of summer ’19 as well as Ms Nina’s mixtape, Perreando Por Fuera, Llorando Por Dentro. As the title suggests, the reggaetonera and neoperreo proponent juggles depression, lust, insecurity, and creativity on tracks as varied as the staccato “Resaca” and the sex-positive “Gata Fina.” Although Perreando Por Fuera could fuel a whole night of grinding, Ms Nina also takes the time to explore consent and reciprocity. Her latest release, “Te Doy,” is a booty-shaking perreo jam with a message—Ms Nina makes it very clear what she’s looking to share, but she’s even more explicit about the fact that you’re only getting culo if and when she deems you worthy. [Danette Chavez]
Mal Blum’s first new album in four years is clear-eyed and confident, its 12 slices of probing, emphatic pop-rock chronicling a history of self-sabotage through a therapeutic lens. That’s not to say they have all the answers, though—what’s so striking about Pity Boy is how in process it feels, with Blum often dealing in conversation with their own thoughts and doubts. “Do you think that we are friends?” they thoughtfully ask on fiery opener “Things Still Left To Say,” punctuating it with a more desperate, straightforward “Are we friends?” Moments like these give Pity Boy an anxious tension that pairs well with its loose, loud riffs, the likes of which serve to elevate the album’s moments of catharsis. “See Me,” for example, oscillates between timidness and anger as it grapples with the anxieties of coming out as nonbinary and transgender, its explosive chorus resonating as an expression of both self-affirmation and frustration. [Randall Colburn]