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.
In our frankly sort of rude review of Drake’s 2018 effort Scorpion, we wrote that “the worst thing that ever happened to Drake was becoming a great rapper.” You can hear that happen, in glorious real-time, on “5 AM In Toronto,” an absolutely grizzly loosie originally released in the run-up to 2013's Nothing Was The Same and now repackaged on the odds-and-sods omnibus Care Package. For Drake, this is no minor effort: he’s done some of his best work outside of the album format, floating feelers for new sounds and issuing state-of-the-union decrees that felt too urgent to wait for the marketing team to get their shit together. Which brings us to “5 AM In Toronto,” a ferocious, hook-free missive that helped transform the rapper’s “aggrieved lothario” persona into a battle-rap throat-slitter, so overflowing with effortless quotables that it singlehandedly marks the crest of the rapper’s imperial era (cc 2011-2015). It’s an instant aux-cord classic, as good now as ever, and finally available somewhere besides freaking YouTube. [Clayton Purdom]
Country music is having a welcome, if somewhat unconventional, summer revival, with Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” officially breaking all kinds of Billboard records and perceived genre norms. The opposite end of the spectrum finds Tyler Childers’ third studio full-length, Country Squire, which is already shaping up to be his most successful to date. Earlier this month, Childers gave us a more traditional honky-tonk collection that still plays with genre expectations in his own particular, tripped-out way. Country Squire makes use of the Kentuckian’s newfound acclaim with lusher production values across the board, highlighted particularly in his album’s first two singles: “House Fire,” a sexy barn-burner (sorry) of a dance track, and “All Your’n,” a worthy entry into Childers’ already sizable catalog of road-worn ballads (with a music video featuring the national debut of “Tammy Chiggers,” no less). If Purgatory was Childers hovering between Lawrence County, Kentucky and the rest of the world, Country Squire announces his ascendence into country’s newest royalty. Here’s hoping for (yet another) “Old Town Road” remix featuring Tammy Chiggers by the summer’s end. [Andrew Paul]
Caroline White’s celestial folk as Infinity Crush tends to unfold like a translucent white sheet billowing in the wind. That spectral quality remains on Virtual Heaven, her follow-up to 2016’s wonderful Warmth Equation, but, this being the project’s first proper studio album, White’s feather-light vocals are forefronted, layered, and backed by robust instrumentation that, thank goodness, never smothers her tender lilt. Lyrically, the songs linger on the physical sensations of touch and environment—warmth, cold, wind, and snow drift across a number of the songs, filling the space between White and what’s beyond. “And I’m staying up all night again, I’m sitting on the roof,” she sings on “Minnesota,” “hoping that the wind that touches me might touch you, too.” It’s all pretty enough to make you wish the songs lasted longer—only one hits the 3-minute mark—but, considering White’s themes of fantasy and longing, it’s only fitting that they come and go like gasps of vapor. [Randall Colburn]
Marika Hackman’s newest album, Any Human Friend, picks up where 2017’s girlfriend-stealing hit “Boyfriend” left off, with jokes and dirty talk lambasting heteronormative notions. On “hand solo,” Hackman admonishes the stigmatization of non-male masturbation and non-heterosexual sex (“Under patriarchal law / I’m gonna die a virgin”). On “conventional ride,” she scorns non-queer folks who experiment with queer women and then disappear (“Is that not enough? / The feminine touch / Could it be that you need / A conventional ride?”). Even the lesbian sex anthem “all night” subtly excoriates the notion that lesbian women shouldn’t be as sexually forthright as gay men (“Our mouths are just for eating / And our mouths are just for moaning / Kissing / Fucking”). Throughout the album, Hackman’s lucid contralto glides across unclouded two-guitar shuffles and gleaming synths, ensuring that her humor, rage, and queerness are as clear as her inescapable melodies. [Max Freedman]
Mashed Potato Records’ origin story has an appropriate touch of the Depression era about it: In the spirit of Alan Lomax and his famed folk recordings, the upstart record label began with musicians Duff Thompson and Bill Howard driving around New Orleans in a van full of reel-to-reel equipment, recording the city’s many street buskers in their natural habitats. Now, three years, a stationary recording studio, and a successful Kickstarter campaign later, those recordings have been collected into two eponymous compilation albums, Mashed Potato Records Vol. I and Vol. II. Fiddles and washboards abound on these Americana-focused tracks, whose moods range from Esther Rose’s lonesome “The Game” to Twain and The Deslondes’ “Run Wild,” an ode to youthful misbehavior with a rockabilly hepcat strut. And the label’s methods are more than just an interesting hook, as the cavernous sound of DIY recording adds an ineffable timelessness to the throwback material. Take The Lostines’ “It’s Been Wrong;” one could easily be convinced that this clattering, deceptively upbeat banjo-and-guitar knee slapper came from a different, more crate-digging type of boutique record label (think the Numero Group or Smithsonian Folkways). But it was, in fact, recorded in the spring of 2017, further proving that time moves differently in New Orleans. [Katie Rife]