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.
Additionally, check out this week’s featured review of Chelsea Wolfe’s return to goth folk, Birth Of Violence.
JPEGMAFIA, All My Heroes Are Cornballs
[EQT Recordings, September 13]
JPEGMAFIA albums inspire a uniquely 2019 insecurity: that is, that you are spending either too much or too little time on the internet. Peggy’s familiarity with its grimier corners can sometimes feel like cyberpunk fiction come to hideous life, fist-fighting beta males and incels in a red-light district populated by porn search tags and leering anime waifus. As always, he can be scabrously funny—“One stop, turn Steve Bannon into Steve Hawking,” he promises—and the landscape of shrieking noise, video game shotgun beats, and densely layered digital artifacts is as absorbing as ever. But All My Heroes Are Cornballs tweaks the formula in a few important ways, toning down the holy-shit intensity of Veteran for surprisingly lithe croons and extended, Mike-like sound collages. Like all of JPEGMAFIA’s records, it’ll take awhile to “get,” and even longer to shake. [Clayton Purdom]
The Highwomen, The Highwomen
[Low Country Sound/Elektra Records, September 6]
The self-titled debut from the Highwomen—an all-star band comprising country star Maren Morris, hits songwriter Natalie Hemby, and Americana boundary-shifters Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires—lives up to every pre-release superlative lobbed at it. Unsurprisingly, the album is full of rich, vulnerable lyrics detailing conflicting desires (“Loose Change”), the pressure of gender double standards (“Redesigning Women”), self-acceptance (“Old Soul”), and more. Music-wise, The Highwomen strikes a balance between mainstream country and Americana, with heavenly wall-of-sound singing and notable influence derived from Dolly Parton’s many sonic moods, Stevie Nicks-centric Fleetwood Mac, and the rootsy rock favored by Sheryl Crow, who even guests on the bluesy strut “Heaven is a Honky Tonk.” The title track is a modified version of the origin story for ’80s supergroup Highwaymen, where each member tells the story of a woman who died while defending her beliefs, but whose spirit perseveres. When guest vocalist Yola sings the lines, “I sat down on the Greyhound that was bound for Mississippi / My mother asked me if that ride was worth my life,” it’s goose bump-inducing every time. [Annie Zaleski]
Jenny Hval, The Practice Of Love
[Sacred Bones, September 13]
“Look at these trees,” says a striking voice on the opening of The Practice Of Love. “Look at this grass / Look at those clouds / Look at them now.” We are unsuspecting participants in the same exercise Jenny Hval explores on her seventh studio LP. As its title suggests, the album is about love, but not the clichéd form found in every top 40 hit—rather, love as a continual recommitment of attention, a sustained practice and flow. Hval, as writer, performer, and arranger, is very much in the flow herself on TPOL, offering up a freer, more meaningful kind of pop music. Everything about this album moves with a rare, organic ease: from spoken word and singsong stream-of-consciousness to expansive, cathartic choruses; from reflective ambiance to danceable rhythms and euphoric synth progressions (“High Alice,” “Six Red Cannas”), cleverly repurposed from “trashy, mainstream” ’90s trance music. Hval’s work is always conceptually layered and well-executed, but The Practice Of Love is among her best, an engaging pop album that runs on pure intuition. [Kelsey J. Waite]
Danny Brown, “Dirty Laundry”
It’s difficult to overstate the rap-nerd promise of a full-length collaboration between Danny Brown, post-rap provocateur, and Q-Tip, one of the principal architects of contemporary hip-hop. They’ve made all the right pre-release noises, too: after reaching the bottom of his downward spiral on Atrocity Exhibition, Brown promised a return to his old (not Old) style, even name-checking the Detroit-hard bar-spitting of 2010’s “Greatest Rapper Ever.” But “Dirty Laundry,” the first single off the prophesied Tip collab, is the furthest thing from a throwback, New Era or otherwise. The beat’s all discordant synth lines, Dilla’s ghost nudging each click-track beep slightly off sync. Brown’s no less gonzo, detailing a series of sexual non-quests alongside increasingly depraved, um, detergent puns. The lesson, as always: Never expect a rapper who calls himself “The Hybrid” to stay put. [Clayton Purdom]
(Sandy) Alex G, House of Sugar
[Domino, September 13]
(Sandy) Alex G was a surprising breakout from the fecund Philly DIY house show circuit of the ’10s. Once a Bandcamp sensation, he’s since eschewed that off-the-cuff ethos, signing to Domino in 2015 and hitting the roll of his life, culminating with crown jewel House of Sugar. It’s rife with tasteful embellishments throughout, gorgeous, near baroque flourishes complementing without cluttering. “Hope” is a quixotic reverie, woozily wobbling through a pretty daze in South Philly, while “Southern Sky” is all threadbare rustic elegance, mechanized decay bleeding into sun-kissed harmonies, elevating it into territory redolent of Sparklehorse’s homespun pop. Allusions to perfidy abound, grappling with indie’s “imposter syndrome,” particularly on the smoldering “Crime.” House of Sugar is anathema to the anomie that rages in our brave new world, and slyly sublimates despair into grand catharsis. Follow him, and you’re on a meditative journey providing sign posts subtly urging that we have our answers, ones he won’t give us, but will reveal that we must be broken open to find them. It’s a service this stunning record generously provides. [John Everhart]