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.
Anderson Paak, Ventura
Released less than six months after the underwhelming Oxnard, his major-label bow and collaboration with Dr. Dre, Ventura finds Anderson Paak re-emphasizing the amiable ramshackle funk that first brought him acclaim. The difference between the two seems stark: Oxnard kicked off with a dumb skit about receiving a blowjob in a car, while Ventura leads with “Come Home,” a neo-soul entreaty to a departed lover that draws a rare appearance from reclusive Southern rap legend André 3000. Over 40 too-short minutes, Paak weaves and bobs through a socio-political homage to LeBron James (“King James”), duets with Motown icon Smokey Robinson (“Make It Better”), and summons the ghost of late crooner Nate Dogg (“What We Can Do?”). These songs have a pleasingly meandering quality, and Paak still doesn’t have the kind of songwriting focus that made his 2016 Grammy-nominated breakthrough, Malibu, such a delight. But after stumbling a bit last year, at least he’s back on the right track. [Mosi Reeves]
Emily Reo, Only You Can See It
Emily Reo’s kaleidoscopic pop feels as born from schoolyard chants as it does her noise-pop predecessors. The Brooklyn-based singer’s swooning melodies and vocoder-processed vocals exude a starry-eyed warmth that clashes strikingly with the vulnerability of her lyrics, which find her troubled spirit “stuck in my room every night” and “not where I belong.” Reo has spoken candidly about her struggles with OCD, anxiety, and depression, and Only You Can See It resonates both as a conscious confrontation with those demons and an illustration of the peripatetic mind. There’s so much swirling through these 10 tracks—starry synth loops, rich bass, and textural bloops swallow and spit out vocals that shine like warm neon. What’s really remarkable, though, is how Reo never lets the thread get away from her; dreamy as they may be, Reo’s melodies always manage to break through the sonic maelstrom. [Randall Colburn]
Backstreet’s back again (all right!), but I’m much more excited about Aventura, who returned last week after nearly a decade apart with un bachatazo in the form of “Inmortal.” The track is part of Romeo Santos’ new album, Utopia, which is full of classic bachata melodies and themes, and features several of the genre’s luminaries (like Raulín Rodríguez and Luis Vargas). But his latest collaborations with bandmates—Henry Santos, Lenny Santos, and Mikey Santos—is the most transportive of Utopia’s collaborations. It takes you back to those backyard parties or nights at the club, with the throng of guests and multi-colored strobe lights. It’s Aventura through and through, from brothers Lenny and Mikey’s passionate strumming to Romeo’s dreamy vocals. Bachata has always been for lovers: the swooning, the heartbroken, the hopeful, and the dejected. But “Inmortal” also sends some love back to Aventura’s fans, los que “sepan que este sentimiento es inmortal.” There’s no word on whether there’ll be more from Aventura as a group, but “Inmortal” has all the makings of an “Obsesión”-level hit, and is an early contender for my song of the summer. [Danette Chavez]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Chika, “No Squares”
When Alabama native Chika called out Kanye West in a “Jesus Walks”-laced viral freestyle more than a year ago, it rang like a warning shot announcing the arrival of something sharp and fearless. Her first single, “No Squares,” is the soul-thumping delivery upon that promise, bringing a fierce flow and sincerity that sets her apart from the incoming fray. In a song about rising to her potential and bringing her tried-and-true inner circle along for the ride, there is a tenacity about Chika that both pulls you in and makes you root for her. “No Squares” is more than a (woefully short) banger, but the manifesto of an artist who is more than ready to shake the table with her depth and honesty. Just be ready to bop your shoulders in the process. The only thing that improves upon this formal introduction is the song’s video, which captures what looks like a genuine celebration in Chika’s honor. Come for the much-deserved party, stay for the baby goats. [Shannon Miller]
Inter Arma, Sulphur English
Like most metal bands that have gotten a little attention outside of metal circles, Inter Arma has a softer side—a taste for the occasional piano interlude or delicate acoustic passage or dusty Americana detour. But you won’t hear much of that on the Richmond genre alchemists’ fourth LP, maybe their most bludgeoning collection of songs yet. Sulphur English churns from one sledgehammer assault to the next, locking into a titanic, extended groove on radio-unfriendly tracks like the seven-minutes-in-hell rager “Citadel.” Truthfully, the sonic variety is a little missed: Far from craven sops to a hypothetical crossover crowd, the more melodic moments on past triumphs Sky Burial and Paradise Gallows helped stave off any numbing effect—the hard hitters hit even harder when broken up with the odd breather. That being said, these monster jams still have enough personality to keep monotony at bay, much of it courtesy of the rhythm section, providing even the most savage stretches with an almost tribal heartbeat. And there are a couple eyes in Inter Arma’s doom-sludge-death storm, including eerie centerpiece “Stillness,” which slows the nonstop ferocity to a magnificent desert crawl worthy of Neurosis. [A.A. Dowd]