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.
You’d never guess that Hunny’s debut full-length coalesced under great duress—namely, that the Woodland Hills, California, band was demoing at bassist-keyboardist Kevin Grimmett’s house as the devastating 2018 wildfires raged nearby. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. is an energetic hybrid of ’80s alternative throwbacks and sugary pop-punk, with lyrics that hew toward bittersweet self-immolation and wistful expressions of regret. “Ritalin” sparkles with brisk, Smiths-ian riffs, while glow-in-the-dark synths and rubber band-taut basslines propel highlight “Change Your Mind,” and there’s a strong early Killers vibe to “Saturday Night.” The latter features a musical assist from Bleached and portrays a gloomy weekend hanging indoors watching My So-Called Life that’s brightened significantly by the presence of a crush: “Call the cops, let ‘em in / You’re Echo, I’m the Bunnymen.” If the idea of a Neon Trees-Simple Plan hybrid sounds like your jam, then Hunny’s your new favorite band. [Annie Zaleski]
Shocking to say, but nearly 25 years into its existence, Imperial Teen might just have made the best album of the band’s increasingly sporadic career. Sure, debut Seasick will always remain a fizzy, ebullient delight, and every subsequent album has plenty to recommend it, but there’s a thematic consistency and tension-filled darkness peeking around the edges of these songs that feels more vital and passionate than the group has arguably ever sounded. No, it’s not a reinvention of the well-established formula Imperial Teen has perfected over the course of more than two decades, and all the lovable elements are there: sunny boy-girl harmonies now matured into searching, pensive man-woman harmonies; bounce-to-the-beat rhythms; jagged, angular guitar riffs that resolve into smooth and shimmering refrains; it’s all present. But the minor-key melodicism and icy new melancholy found in Roddy Bottum’s lyrics point to a moving meditation and how to grow up and fuse the sweet with the sad in ways more complex than key changes. It’s wonderfully catchy pop, yet moves you in unexpected ways. [Alex McLevy]
Dub is musical cubism, which is another way of saying that it lives and dies with the confidence and perspective of whoever’s at the controls. On their new album Hasta El Cielo, a full-length dub of last year’s excellent Hasta El Cielo, Khruangbin show themselves to be strangely hesitant, thinning out most of their songs’ textures while trying not to scuff them up too much with the disruptive rhythms and abrupt tonal shifts characteristic of the genre. But tacked on to the end is a pair of dubs by the legendary Scientist, who reimagines “Rules” and “Cómo Te Quiero” in heat-hallucination desert colors. He pulls gently at the ends of Mark Speer’s guitar lines, spinning them into candy floss so thin they get carried away in windy reverb, and liquifies the martial pop of Donald Johnson’s drums into drifting overtones, where they meld with a rapidly fading copy of bassist Laura Lee’s vocals. It’s a new distillation of the originals’ essence, one that suggests reinvention can be the highest form of respect. [Marty Sartini Garner]
J. Cole invited over 300 artists to contribute to his sprawling compilation Revenge Of The Dreamers; the final album contains 35 different rappers, and among all of them, the most head-turning, rewind-that-shit verse comes from Maxo Kream. This dude, if it wasn’t clear from last year’s Punken, can fucking rap. His go-to flow is a deliriously simple no-breath every-beat canter, as elemental as prime Gucci Mane but with some of Killer Mike’s linebacker nimbleness, and it’s all over Brandon Banks, the Houston emcee’s better-in-every-possible-metric major-label debut. Punken felt like a lifetime worth of memories unspooling in metronome-steady rhyme schemes, but Brandon Banks deepens the artist’s sense of autobiography, meditating at length on the crimes and gifts of his grift-life dad. (That’s him on the cover, and popping up between tracks.) Productions range from Cash Money throwback (“Spice Ln.”) to A$AP Mob mosh-rap (“Murda Blocc”) to slinky strip-club bounce (“She Live”). You will not believe it, but Maxo sounds great over all of them. [Clayton Purdom]
Nas’ 2002 compilation of demos, The Lost Tapes, arrived in the wake of a second career peak, from holding his own against Jay-Z (fans still debate loudly who won that classic rap battle) to earning plaudits with 2001’s Stillmatic. Despite its patchwork origins, the collection had a sonic cohesion that made it a minor classic of Queens street rap. By contrast, The Lost Tapes 2, culled from sessions for his last four solo albums, is clearly an odds-and-sods mishmash. These cuts have clear flaws that kept them off albums: weird lyrics (“Tanasia”), a bizarre chorus (“Royalty”), an undercooked theme (“Adult Film”). But there’s still much to appreciate here. Social media had plenty of jokes when Nas tried vocalese like Al Jarreau on “Jarreau of Rap (Skatt Attack),” but it sounds delightfully oddball. “War Against Love” and “You Mean the World to Me” have a po-faced charm, and “QueensBridge Politics” is a heartfelt tribute to late rapper Prodigy of Mobb Deep. [Mosi Reeves]