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.
Charly Bliss, Young Enough
Charly Bliss swerved onto indie radars with 2017’s Guppy, a caterwauling slice of sugary power-pop that blossomed under the powerhouse charisma of singer Eva Hendricks. The distortion’s dialed down on the Brooklyn four-piece’s latest release, Young Enough, but the intensity that made Guppy so vital still burns beneath these candy-colored synths and bouncing, Jepsen-esque choruses. So, too, does Hendricks’ clever, gutting wordplay, which finds in the fallout of an abusive relationship an urgent mix of pained intimacy (“Hurt Me,” “Young Enough”) and exuberant liberation (“Chatroom,” “Hard To Believe”), not to mention the all-too-common question that accompanies the loss of a troubled partner: Could I have saved them? Young Enough sounds cleaner than what came before—producer Joe Chiccarelli’s worked with everyone from Oingo Boingo to Broken Social Scene—but the lyrical complexity of Charly Bliss’ early work remains, as does its roaring, palpitating energy. [Randall Colburn]
Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!
It wasn’t enough for Jamila Woods to simply follow up her 2016 debut album, Heavn, which functioned as self-reflection on her identity. With Legacy! Legacy!, the Chicago poet and educator elevates her voice as she navigates blackness and black feminism through the lessons of the culture’s greatest pillars. Moved by figures like Nikki Giovanni, Octavia Butler, and Betty Shabazz, just to name a few, Woods melodically reclaims a heritage that has been watered down and repackaged. Legacy! Legacy! flawlessly explores community while serving as one of its own: Woods carved out plenty of room for collaborators to inject their own perspective. “Basquiat,” a simmering, cathartic ode to the neo-expressionist artist of the same name, features the acerbic flow of fellow Chicago rapper Saba as they call out the policing of black emotions—namely anger. Managing to find an ideal, symbiotic relationship between hip-hop, soul, jazz, and R&B, Woods has crafted a sophomore knockout that doubles as a shield of protection around black humanity. [Shannon Miller]
Big Brave, A Gaze Among Them
“Dinosaurian” is one word that leaps to mind while listening to the enormous racket of Big Brave. The Montreal trio lays out vast, reverberant canyons of space and then stomps its way from one end to the other. A Gaze Among Them, the band’s fourth LP, doesn’t break much from the attack plan of its predecessor, 2017’s thunderously good Ardor: There are five tracks here instead of three, but most settle into a similar groove, getting progressively louder and heavier, like the approach of prehistoric footsteps. “Holding Pattern” escalates most cathartically, building from a minimalist drone to a full-blown stampede. But for as often as Gaze’s fuzzy riffage spikes into the red, the album is melodic as well as titanic, and its avalanche of sound never drowns out the human dimension—the defiant emotion of the opening track, for example, which culminates with frontwoman Robin Wattie bellowing “You don’t get to do that” over violently crashing guitars. The closing throb of blown-out distortion even sounds a bit like a heartbeat. Godzilla’s, but still. [A.A. Dowd]
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Holly Herndon, Proto
Blame it on pop culture depictions of rogue machines, but we tend to view artificial intelligence, like any unknown, with fear. “That’s one of the biggest problems of AI; it’s this kind of opaque, black box technology,” Holly Herndon recently told The Muse. Which is why the avant-pop composer aims, on third LP Proto, to capture the creation and collaborative potential of the technology—to expose its very human, rudimentary inner workings. To accomplish that, Herndon primarily trained her “AI baby,” Spawn, on our most primal instrument: the voice. Proto is saturated with choral arrangements inspired by religious gatherings and communal singing traditions; they call up Appalachian and Bulgarian song (“Frontier,” “Canaan”), among others, but also feel new, emphasizing the universality of these practices. There’s inevitably a lot of process to Proto, but Herndon makes it highly enjoyable to witness, in both exploratory moments like “Godmother” and poppier ones like “Eternal,” with its vaulted harmonies and heavy beats. All together, it’s further proof that, even in electronic’s most progressive spheres, Herndon dares go where few others will. [Kelsey J. Waite]
Versus, Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo, the first Versus release since 2010’s superb LP On The Ones And Threes, finds the band in a reflective mood. The title Ex Nihilo literally means “out of nothing,” and this EP elliptically addresses creation and divinity with equal parts doubt and faith. “Invisible Love” exhibits the hallmarks of the classic Versus sound, one deeply evocative of the halcyon days of ’90s indie rock it played a massive role in defining—dirty-silver surging guitars crashing with reckless abandon as guitarist-singer Richard Baluyut’s and bassist-singer Fontaine Toups’ vocals gorgeously bleed together. “Gravity (Version)” is the record’s emotional apex, a dub/funk cousin to Wire’s “Used To,” deadly serious as Baluyut contemplates, “What is left behind when the spirit’s gone?” This conundrum is never reconciled, but to paraphrase from Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, the only truly serious questions are the ones with no answers. Versus parse such ontological quandaries with childlike wonder throughout Ex Nihilo, suggesting that whatever comes after our spirits leave our bodies, it’ll be a beautiful surprise, even if it’s nothing. [John Everhart]