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.
Kim Petras, “Malibu”
Not to be hyperbolic, but Kim Petras might just save our summer with this one. The rising queen of pop has already cornered the market on spooky bops thanks to last year’s electrifying Turn Off The Light, but her bubbly, swooning new single “Malibu” practically drags listeners to the beach, slaps the sunscreen on, and mixes them a cocktail with Blue Curaçao. Like many of the best pop songs, “Malibu” captures the tingling sensation of infatuation, shamelessly—and ebulliently—crying out for “more, more, more!” As Petras belts, “all your kisses taste like Malibu” over a propulsive bass line, the track sounds like “All Night Long” by way of Cyndi Lauper with an extra shot of sunshine-induced endorphins. With the weather heating up while COVID-19 keeps us indoors, “Malibu” lets us indulge our summer fantasies, even for a few short minutes. In other words, you’re going to want to hit the “Repeat” button. [Cameron Scheetz]
Mark Lanegan, Straight Songs Of Sorrow
“Get out while you can / I will bring bad luck and misery to you, man.” If there’s a consistent theme to Straight Songs Of Sorrow, Mark Lanegan’s album-length accompaniment to his just-released memoir Sing Backwards And Weep, it’s a refusal to let himself off the hook. Instead, he embraces the pain and struggle that has defined much of his life, using it to craft a searching and melancholy collection of 15 songs that run the gamut from delicately finger-picked acoustic confessions to pulsing epics to dark synthwave washes, the sprawling breadth of sounds united by Lanegan’s whiskey-grain vocals. That distinctive voice is growing increasingly flexible with age, going from plaintive and reedy to a rumbling rasp, depending on the mood of the song. There are periodic flashes of hope over the course of this musical survey of a life richly lived, but the darkness that permeates Lanegan’s most autobiographical and introspective record to date will be familiar to any fan of the musician’s potent muse. America’s own Nick Cave has been here all along. [Alex McLevy]
Less than a minute into the first track on her new EP, Little Simz compares herself to “Lauryn Hill back in the ’90s,” but she quickly proves it an apt comparison. The result of a monthlong writing and recording binge during quarantine, the London rapper’s six-song blitzkrieg (the entire thing is only about 12 minutes long) proves 2019’s Mercury Prize-nominated GREY Area was no fluke: Despite its stripped-down minimalism, Simz remains an artist with an arresting talent for lyrical gymnastics. Restlessly surveying frenetic Outkast-style beats on “might bang, might not,” smoky coffeeshop jazz-bop (“one life, might live”), and more modern electronica flourishes (“you should call mum”), the album is a rich musical stew even with its small-scale production. But what really makes it soar is how powerfully she captures the emotional see-sawing of our current lockdown moment, that tense push and pull between angst and ennui that defines a world in stress-filled stasis. “How many naps can I take? / How many songs can I write?” Indeed. [Alex McLevy]
Hayley Williams, Petals For Armor
“Watching Williams tap into every side of her self-care journey, whether it invokes fear, unrest, curiosity, or newfound freedom, resonates more as a reintroduction than the return of a beloved vocalist. Capping the album with the breezy “Crystal Clear,” a gorgeous toast to moving forward, proves to be an effective way to build excitement for what’s to come from an artist standing on her own two feet. Though it contains mere hints of the scrappy rocker we’ve watched for 15 years, Petals Of Armor is the bold signature of someone who is more than ready to show off different sides of herself—yet has nothing left to prove to anyone.”
Read our featured review of Petals For Armor here.
Like “Malibu,” the splashy tremolo of the new Nick Lowe single is a welcome reminder that there are still waves and summer afternoons and beaches on the horizon—even if that horizon keeps receding into the distance. Not that you’ll find the narrator of “Don’t Be Nice To Me” there: This is a postcard from a self-deprecating sod in the classic Lowe vein, begging its recipient to be neither cruel nor kind before asking the whole damn world to stay away. A true social-distancing role model, in other words, the storm cloud over their head an amusing counterpoint to the tropical breezes of Los Straitjackets and that lilting “walk in the park”/“trill of a lark” part of the chorus. Whatever the rest of 2020 brings, this much is certain: “Don’t Be Nice To Me” has the honor of “best use lyrical use of ‘big galoot’” all locked up. [Erik Adams]