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.
Perfume Genius, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
If the transcendent No Shape let us bear witness to an emotional breakthrough for Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas, then Set My Heart On Fire Immediately feels like an invitation to join him on the other side. Despite the evocative title, Perfume Genius’ fifth album exudes a warm comfort—even the distorted guitar chords of lead single “Describe” eventually bleed into a shimmering ambience. There’s vulnerability in intimacy, and much of the album finds the artist opening himself up to others, freely bending with the whims of time. On standout “Your Body Changes Everything”—which barrels forward like a Kate Bush song warbled by Roy Orbison—Hadreas pleads, “Hold me up, I’m falling down!” It’s not just about letting yourself feel safe in someone’s arms, but trusting that someone’s there to catch you. It’s a looser, more rootsy sound for Perfume Genius, born out of a hard-won sense of freedom and security. Set My Heart On Fire Immediately is a rich, spirited testament to the fact that growth isn’t always about moving forward, but also settling in. [Cameron Scheetz]
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Temple
Thao Nguyen thought she’d never make an album again, and then came Temple. The latest effort from Nguyen’s longtime band Thao & The Get Down Stay Down sees the singer-songwriter standing fully in herself, marking the reconciliation of her queer identity and her Vietnamese culture with a 10-song set that similarly combines post-punk deconstruction with hi-fi grooves. No track epitomizes this union better than lead single “Phenom,” which overlays Nguyen’s prickly, Raincoats-esque vocals with slinky, sunglasses-at-night production for a cry of protest against “white collar cannibals” that’s both sexy and sharp. This marriage of lush and jagged stays strong throughout the record, from retro-disco opener “Temple” to the subdued electro-pop of “Marrow.” [Katie Rife]
Magnetic Fields, Quickies
Stephin Merritt can just as easily make you blush as he can break your heart. One of the most gorgeous songs on 2017’s 50 Song Memoir, lest we forget, doubles as a dick joke. As its title implies, Quickies is similarly crass, delivering 28 tracks of spare, bite-sized ditties that indulge in booze, boobs, dicks, sex, and—as in the hilarious “Let’s Get Drunk Again (And Get Divorced)”—casual disdain for the people you love the most. Merritt’s too good a songwriter, however, to completely evade pathos; “I Wish I Were A Prostitute Again,” much like Distortion’s “A Nun’s Litany,” serves as a sad, morbidly sweet portrait of longing for naughty indulgences. Quickies, in its sly way, feels at times like a smirking rebuke to modern philosophies of self-care, reveling as it does in all the bad behaviors, both physical and emotional, we’re meant to “grow out of” as adults. [Randall Colburn]
Moses Sumney, Grae
“Grae: Part 1 is about as thrilling as albums come; it could easily compete for album-of-the-year honors even without the eight new songs tacked on. Part 1 sees Sumney step outside previous comfort zones and dabble in militaristic, soaring rock (“Conveyor”); galloping, wispy jazz (“Neither/Nor”); and arena-ready grunge (“Virile”)—all while deconstructing the lines between friends and lovers (“In Bloom”), the categorized and the unlabeled (“Boxes,” seemingly a direct continuation of that Pitchfork quote), and masculinity and femininity (“Jill/Jack”). Grae: Part 2 is no less formidable, though it’s not as stylistically or thematically varied. It often recalls the static thrum of Aromanticism’s most crushing ballads, and it addresses greyness less on a societal level than as the space between one’s self and other versions of that self.” [Max Freedman]
Read our featured review of Grae here.
Brasstracks, “Change For Me (feat. Samm Henshaw)”
There are few pairings that are more audibly blissful than the soulful stylings of Samm Henshaw and a solid horns section. If the title track from 2018’s Broke and last year’s “Only One To Blame” aren’t enough examples, one only has to look to his latest collaboration with jazz-funk instrumentalists Brasstracks. “Change For Me” combines Henshaw’s effortlessly buoyant vocals and Brasstracks electrifying brass for a sound that thoroughly uplifts, even while the lyrics contemplate complacency and running out of reasons to change. The track’s rousing energy feels reminiscent of some of Brasstracks’ previous team-ups, including Chance The Rapper and Anderson .Paak, but Henshaw’s sunny, homespun verve adds an element that is distinct and genuinely soul-arresting. “Change For Me” is a few great things at once: A sneaky earworm, a sunny groove, and a harmonious reminder that there are always reasons to try. [Shannon Miller]