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.
FKA Twigs, Magdalene
It’s likely by design that FKA Twigs’ sophomore album, Magdalene, drops the same day as Shia LaBeouf’s autobiographical drama Honey Boy, where she appears in a supporting role opposite LaBeouf stand-in Noah Jupe; both give Twigs opportunities to prospect her own soul years after her painfully public breakup with Robert Pattinson. Magdalene runs on a funereal energy. Like LP1, discombobulating production marries with Twigs’ fluctuating vocals; the sound shifts from track to track and within individual tracks, too, suggesting a hodgepodge but truthfully the work of deliberate musicianship. Twigs’ level of intention is no more evident than on Magdalene’s bookends, “Thousand Eyes” and “Cellophane”: They form a bitter and brokenhearted lament of fame, a cruel magnet for unwanted attention as well as a wedge driven between lovers. Her breathy, fae closing lines on the latter speak to her fears and insecurities, but the record’s assured, oscillating precision should dispel both. [Andy Crump]
Gang Starr, One Of The Best Yet
When Guru died in 2010, it was fair to assume his unconscionable hot streak with DJ Premier had concluded. But do not ever count out DJ Premier, one of the great wandering ronin of hip-hop’s old ways. After a protracted legal battle, the producer acquired some 30 unattached verses from his old partner, then reverse-engineered beats to the rhythms suggested by the bars. The resulting collages, at once melancholy and forceful, pick up not where The Ownerz left off but where Moment Of Truth did, full of swelling strings (“Family And Loyalty”) and blaxploitation boom-bap (“Take Flight”). Guru’s the rare rapper who got better with every year, and he melts into these beats with characteristic cool, accompanied by a dream team of golden-age compatriots. (Q-Tip’s voice, as always, bedevils, but it’s Royce Da 5’9” who steals the show on “What’s Real.”) Along with 4:44 and We Got It From Here, it’s a model for throwback hip-hop, as much comfort food as it is food for thought. [Clayton Purdom]
Moor Mother, Analog Fluids Of Sonic Holes
Camae Ayewa is nothing if not confrontational. On her debut album, Fetish Bones, the Philly artist best known as Moor Mother smashed the aggression of noise, industrial music, hip-hop, punk, and spoken word into snarling, unforgiving protests against historical and modern injustices. Follow-up Analog Fluids Of Sonic Holes is even more grating and—thanks to modulated samples of spirituals—dystopian than its predecessor. At least two of those samples bolster the thumping bass and growling vocals of “After Images,” Analog’s most bombastic song. Ayewa is just as piercing when she’s not explosive: “Shadowgrams,” throughout which she lambasts topics like the erasure of Black people from U.S. history textbooks and the futility of distracting ourselves from the world’s impending doom, is equally droning and truculent. When she sneers “Nightmare shit!” on “LA92,” she doesn’t just mean her music—she means humanity, listeners included. [Max Freedman]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Mount Eerie, Lost Wisdom Pt. 2
Phil Elverum—a.k.a. Mount Eerie and, before that, The Microphones—has had a brutal few years, and has poured his experiences into direct, profound songs. First came 2017’s A Crow Looked At Me, a gutting album detailing Elverum’s grief over the loss of his wife, who died of cancer in 2016. Elverum found love again not too much later, marrying actress Michelle Williams in 2018 but splitting less than a year later; that experience colors Lost Wisdom Pt. 2 pretty directly: “Today the tabloids told the world you separated me / My phone began dinging more than usual / It was just like the day they found out we’d gotten married.” This one is more about longing and regret than death, but it’s far from easy listening. To make it go down smoother, Elverum recruited his old friend Julie Doiron, the fantastic singer-songwriter with whom he collaborated on the first Lost Wisdom record a decade ago. Together they spin sorrow into magic, frequently using no more than their voices and one lonely acoustic guitar. [Josh Modell]
Earl Sweatshirt, Feet Of Clay
If you did not fuck with Some Rap Songs, Earl Sweatshirt’s long-awaited 2018 LP that buried his dazzling technical prowess beneath a fog of minimalist, ambient hip-hop, well, you will probably extremely not fuck with the new Feet Of Clay. Shorter, darker, and even less interested in appealing to the “FREE EARL” crowd, the 15-minute EP finds the emcee receding further still into his own mind, spitting characteristically dense bars over beats few other rappers would dare touch. (The accordion loop of “East” has already gone down in infamy, but “OD” sounds like a radio caught between stations.) If you’ve got the ears for it, though, these are verses unlike any in hip-hop, grieving dead family members and each melting glacier, shouting out the ’04 Pistons and going bar for bar with Mach-Hommy. “The quality thorough, ill / It’s all I could spill / There’s more I could do,” he raps at the album’s close, and, as always, we believe him. [Clayton Purdom]