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, with some 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.
Neil Young, Homegrown
It was one of those records that disappeared into the vaults, theorized about by die-hards with same the fervid speculation as Bigfoot trackers. But now, 45 years later, Neil Young’s Homegrown—originally recorded in between 1972's Harvest and 1978's Comes A Time—has been released, and it’s no less masterful for having sat unheard all these years. If anything, the passing time has helped intensify the lush intimacy of the recordings, making Young’s spare and rich instrumentation (and old-school minimalist production) stand out all the more in an era of auto-tuned digitalization. Young’s poetic evocations of loss and separation still land with affecting immediacy. (“Walking in the rain, comin’ home dry / there’s something missing there, it’s easier to care and try” goes the slide-guitar-aided lament of “Try.”) Seven of these tracks have never been released in any form (the classic Young-style harmonies on the upbeat “Vacancy” are a high point) and paired with the original iterations of songs like “Little Wing”(wonderfully muted in this incarnation), the overall effect is exhilarating, like unexpectedly finding a never-seen Rembrandt in your parents’ attic. It’s a must-have for Young fans, but a must-hear for anyone interested in a master musician at the height of his powers. [Alex McLevy]
Owen, The Avalanche
Listening to Mike Kinsella’s solo project, Owen, can feel like sleeping on a subway, its rhythmic momentum lulling one into a subconscious state that’s occasionally punctured by bursts of dissonance or a piquing turn of phrase. Kinsella is a thoughtful, often surprising lyricist, but his voice, cottony in its soft delivery, feels of a piece with his hypnotic fingerpicking and rich strings, soothing like a mobile spinning above a child’s crib. For this reason, The Avalanche, like the nine Owen LPs that precede it, can feel like a passive listen. But listen closer and you’ll hear some of the outfit’s most immersive storytelling to date; despite Kinsella’s innate warmth, his words contain fangs. “Dead For Days” confronts sobriety, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts, while “I Should’ve Known” and “Mom And Dead” sink in the memories of a collapsed marriage while grimacing towards an uncertain future. It’s harrowing at times, sure, but Kinsella’s enveloping rhythms will make you want to listen. [Randall Colburn]
Leah Kate, “Fuck Up The Friendship”
This year’s pop offerings come with an almost painful bit of irony: During a period when partying the night away in a crowded club isn’t exactly an option, we’ve still received some of the most irresistible dance records in recent years. Soloist Leah Kate’s latest jam “Fuck Up The Friendship” is a hip-swinging ode to intoxicating, boundary-shifting love that benefits from production that is both sexy and smart. The arrangement is a fitting tribute to the track’s circumstances: Kate’s breathy, delicate refrains work well with the hook’s baseline to replicate the heady feeling of newfound intimacy while soaring strings underscore the rush of taking such a risk. “Fuck Up The Friendship” is another entry in the current wave of disco-leaning electro-pop, an effort that was bolstered by Dua Lipa’s LP Future Nostalgia. In fact, it makes for a perfect complement to Lipa’s hit March release, matching the addictive groove and brazen lyrics almost pound-for-pound. [Shannon Miller]
Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher
Phoebe Bridgers, like all of us, is feeling a little jittery. Opening her latest album with the glitchy instrumental “DVD Menu” before transitioning into the deceptively grounded “Garden Song,” Punisher is an album about sleepless nights and sinking feelings in the pit of your stomach, wrapped in a musical package that’s both feather-light and lush enough to run your fingers through. “When I can’t sleep, it’s just a matter of time before I’m hearing things,” Bridgers sings on the ethereal “Chinese Satellite.” Lucky for us, what she hears is absolutely gorgeous. [Katie Rife]
Look for our featured review of Punisher going up later today.
Elvis Costello, “No Flag”
In the late ’70s, Elvis Costello burst onto the then-fledgling punk scene as the quintessential angry man: getting banned from Saturday Night Live, for example, for playing “Radio, Radio”—the song he was explicitly told not to play. Forty-some years and numerous albums later and Costello’s angriest side has now returned, a bit wiser and a lot more jaded, with his most barbed-wire-filled track in years, “No Flag.” Employing some spooky synth percussion to kick it off, “No Flag” then quickly shifts to a hypnotic tantrum-filled riff, Costello dually assaulting with an aggressive guitar line and lyrics that rage against the weak idols that have let everyone down in 2020: “No flag waving high above / No sign for the dark place that I live / No God for the damn that I don’t give.” As caustic as it is, it’s a refreshing return to form for Costello, at an ideal time for angry, catchy protest songs. [Gwen Ihnat]