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.
Don’t miss our featured reviews from this week, either: Sleater-Kinney returns with the St. Vincent-produced The Center Won’t Hold, and The Hold Steady resurrects its rock with the solid, low-key Thrashing Thru The Passion. They’re both out now, along with the following five recommendations.
Bon Iver, i,i
[Jagjaguwar, August 9]
If you listen closely, you can hear Bon Iver’s thesis statement for each of his releases within the opening 30 seconds. For Emma, Forever Ago’s initial acoustic strums on “Flume” set the mood for the rest of the album: a sparse and lonely folk release. Justin Vernon made his point quickly on Bon Iver’s “Perth,” allowing his electric guitar runs to introduce the audience to a new era of the band—ditto for the deformed “ahhs” on 22, A Million’s “22, (OVER S∞∞N).” But on the 32-second “Yi,” we can quickly tell that i,i will be a collaborative effort when hearing the hushed conversation between Vernon and another member of the band in the studio. That democratic spirit is what makes i,i such a vital listen: Vernon opens things up to his bandmates and a slew of his famous friends (including James Blake, The National’s Dessners, Moses Sumney, Bruce Hornsby, and others), leading to his most expansive-sounding and boundary-pushing—yet still immensely listenable—record yet. [Steven Edelstone]
JPEGMAFIA, “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot”
[EQT, August 13]
Here is a sentence that appears on JPEGMAFIA’s Wikipedia page and exactly nowhere else, ever: “Hendricks has cited Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Throbbing Gristle, Hanson, Ice Cube, and The Backstreet Boys as influences.” You can pretty much hear them all on the new “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot,” sometimes phasing into each other like faces in a deepfake video. An industrial outburst one moment shatters into Auto-Tuned croons the next; Peggy prowls just behind the foggy beat, slashing out with threats (“I’ll put your soul in a struggle bar”) and name-drops (“Speaking in tongues like I’m David Byrne”) and caustic asides (“Pray that these crackers don’t Columbine”). He has promised that his upcoming album, following last year’s breakout Veteran, will be a disappointment, but “Thot” works on the same wavelength as the rapper’s best work, sliding into your brain and reconfiguring it like a computer virus. [Clayton Purdom]
Ross From Friends, Epiphany
[Brainfeeder, August 16]
It’s been almost exactly a year since the captivating debut LP of Ross From Friends (a.k.a. Felix Clary Weatherall), Family Portrait, was released, so it seems fitting that this anniversary should see the arrival of his new EP, Epiphany, as it functions as both a celebration of his established style and an evolution of the same. “None of this is real,” goes a whispered voice on the leadoff title track, before launching into a taut, throbbing house beat that nonetheless retains all the warmth and lustrous textures of his previous work. The same can be said for the other two tracks as well, which both see Weatherall flexing a more muscular rhythm with which to pair his flowing synths, samples, and ’90s-throwback grooves. It has a bit more of the Future Sound Of London sci-fi influence this time around, giving his usually homespun, intimate jams a more otherworldly feel—a nice fusion with the club dancehall tempos and drum machines that make this release an instantly addictive pleasure. [Alex McLevy]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
[Secretly Canadian, August 16]
From her very first single in 2014, Aleksandra Denton, best known as Shura, has penned romantic anthems from a perspective both blatantly queer and wholly transcending sexual orientation. On sophomore album Forevher, Denton narrows her focus, narrating the joys and challenges of long-distance dating over funky, psychedelia-brushed synthpop soundscapes that shift to match each song’s story. On album zenith “religion (u can lay your hands on me),” as Denton sings about aggressively lusting for her new girlfriend, she bolsters her appetite with Prince-like synth grooves that reflect the song’s genesis in Minneapolis, where her relationship began. As she meditates on flying between her native U.K. and her girlfriend’s U.S. on “flyin’” and “princess leia,” her slow-flowing, crystalline synths sound as airy as the sky. In molding her melodies to her words, Denton ensures that listeners of all sexualities can easily navigate forevher’s invigorating sonic and romantic geography. [Max Freedman]
Lonnie Liston Smith, Astral Traveling
[Real Gone, August 2]
In the early 1970s, Lonnie Liston Smith’s piano playing was the spaceship whose structural integrity gave Pharoah Sanders the freedom to explore the benevolent outer reaches of the cosmos. While working in the iteration of Miles Davis’ band that recorded the funk-fusion classic On the Corner, Smith put together a starry-eyed group of his own and returned to the launchpad he’d built with the Sanders group. He revisits his arrangement of the gospel classic “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord,” which he recorded with Pharoah three years prior, brushing away some of the stardust but retaining the song’s indelible sense of possibility. “In Search Of Truth,” meanwhile, somehow seeks out Alice Coltrane’s droning mysticism and classical tidiness at the same time. With its relatively (relatively!) condensed structures and harmonic clarity, Astral Traveling presents a remarkably accessible side-door into spiritual jazz for anyone trying to follow the beckon of Kamasi Washington’s horn. [Marty Sartini Garner]