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.
Kelly Clarkson—our first (and some people’s only) American Idol—knows how to wail with the best of them, but you’ll find minimal vocal gymnastics on her latest anthem. With a driving drum beat, “I Dare You” simmers with the energy of a perfect workout song while Clarkson dares us all to love. The lyrics are similarly anthemic and teeter just on the right side of cheesy, but the simplicity of the message make sense when examined through the context of the entire EP: A collection of six versions of the song, five of them duets where Clarkson sings with recording artists from around the world in their respective native languages. Clarkson recorded this passion project before the current pandemic, but the message of the song—be it sung in French with Zaz, Arabic with Faouzia, Spanish with Blas Cantó, German with Glasperlenspiel, or Hebrew with Maya Buskila—could not be more timely or uplifting. (To hear a megamix of the versions, check out this video.) [Patrick Gomez]
RJD2, The Fun Ones
Seven albums in, RJD2 shows no signs of slackening his restless creative muse—or the invigorating musical results. The Fun Ones lives up to its name, an appealing stew of throwback soul, funk, disco, hip-hop, and whatever else inspires the Midwestern-born musician to craft another record of mostly instrumental jams. Jazzy and immediately appealing, tracks like opener “No Helmet Up Indianola” and “Indoor S’mores” bop with an easy groove, while later rap-infused tracks “A Genuine Gentleman” (with superlative rhymer Aceyalone) and “One Of A Kind” pay off their vocal collaborations with a Stevie Wonder-esque horn backing and Digable Planets-style cafe-jazz bounce, respectively. Interlaced with snippets of conversation about the state of their art (with friends like Kid Koala and Mr. Lif), this is a record of thumping beats and sprawling hooks, continuously reinventing itself into a retro-jukebox setlist of funky soul history, remixed for the future. [Alex McLevy]
Chances of any music festivals happening this summer grow slimmer by the day. Thankfully, Omens is here to bring the spirit—if not the, uh, smells—of a big outdoor jamboree to your living room. The fifth full-length from Elder packs a whole main stage’s worth of rock ’n’ roll euphoria into five sprawling tracks, the shortest topping out just under 10 minutes. “Stoner metal” is the tag first applied to these Massachusetts guitar heroes, but it never quite communicated the appeal of their winding, tuneful anthems, which tend to forego the monolithic crunch of Electric Wizard in favor of a melodious charge through the classic-rock playbook. This is a slightly mellower (and less exhilarating) collection than 2017’s monumental Reflections Of A Floating World; here, the band’s signature technical ecstasy gives way to passages of Floydian spaciness, augmented by the synthesizer guest contributions of Fabio Cuomo. But the chillness is an eye of the hurricane, as on “Halcyon,” which starts as a dreamy instrumental, before hitting a gorgeous plateau of keys and then exploding into the album’s brightest riffing. Crack some windows, crank the volume, and close your eyes: Omens will take you to Indio, Manchester, or Grant Park, minus the overpriced pizza or lines at the Porta Potty. [A.A. Dowd]
Silky and feather-light, Alina Baraz’s debut album It Was Divine exists in a suspended state of soft-spoken sentimentality and dreamy romance. Though she has managed to build a massive following with just two EPs and a string of low-key releases, this is the first full-length effort from the alt-R&B singer-songwriter. But don’t let her lofty melodies and languid delivery fool you: Between tidy production and a boast-worthy list of features from Smino, 6lack, Khalid, and hip-hop icon Nas, Baraz pulls zero punches, confidently swaggering into the mainstream. Seamless entries like the bass-throbbing “Give Me The Wheel” and “Off The Grid”—both evidence of her ability to gel with just about any voice—are easily some of the best of the collection. It Was Divine is, in all, a gorgeously downtempo expression of vulnerability that, despite its unwaveringly smooth polish, is no less of a gut punch. [Shannon Miller]
Two years after her full-length album’s debut—the dreamy, fortuitously titled Isolation—Kali Uchis’ sophomore effort is yet another project delayed by the global pandemic. Hinting at her own restlessness, and perhaps sensing our collective need for the kind of wistful escapism only she can provide, Uchis is tiding fans over with To Feel Alive, a new EP comprised of four short, self-recorded demo tracks. But don’t let the “demo” label fool you: These songs are as accomplished and transporting as anything on Isolation, incisively navigating the worlds of pop, R&B, and neo-soul to create a sound all their own. The EP finds Uchis unleashing the raw power of longing, particularly on “I Want War (But I Need Peace),” which recalls Sade in its unabashed, melodious yearning. As she swoons, “I just want to feel something” throughout To Feel Alive’s titular closing track, Uchis perfectly encapsulates the maddening realities of this very moment, nostalgic for the recent past when everything didn’t seem so out of reach. [Cameron Scheetz]