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.
SuperM, Super One
South Korean-based pop supergroup SuperM debuted almost a year ago with “Jopping,” a souped-up dance jaunt meant to showcase the burgeoning band’s big sound and high ambition. Although it made a big enough splash to gain the attention of a curious public, the group’s first full-length LP, Super One, successfully highlights how every member—Taemin of SHINee, Baekhyun and Kai of EXO, Mark and Taeyong of NCT, and Lucas and Ten of NCT and WayV—injects both their individual personality and their home group’s unique verve into each collective effort. Super One flexes unfettered prowess from a group of time-tested performers as no tonal ground is left untraveled. “Drip” and “Tiger Inside” thump with the rap line’s tenacious flow, island-grown grooves turn the intimate “Wish You Were Here” into a romantic sojourn, and “Infinity” is nothing short of heroic as triumphant brass, whirring techno beats, and brave vocals assemble effortlessly. But if you ask the men which track best encompasses the charm of each of their members, they’ll tell you that it’s the breezy, house-driven “Big Chance.” “That song represents a big opportunity for us,” Baekhyun said to The A.V. Club. “This is our ‘big chance’ to showcase SuperM.” [Shannon Miller]
Sylvan Esso, Free Love
Although the story of the party-starting indie-pop outfit Sylvan Esso is about so much more than its duo’s romantic relationship, it’s hard not to trace the evolution of its sound along the lines of a deepening partnership. With seven years, three albums, a wedding, and countless joyfully sweaty live shows under their belts, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn’s latest reflects a hard-won symbiosis. Sylvan Esso’s most cohesive and contemplative record yet, Free Love represents a true union between Meath’s stirring lyrics and Sanborn’s expressive digital production, blurring the lines between their roles. Their push-and-pull dynamic—a series of “small arguments,” as Meath puts it—breathes fresh life into their music for an album that plays through like a living diary, divulging head-spinning crushes (the infectious “Ferris Wheel”) and pondering the nature of personhood within the public eye (the poignantly straightforward “Free”). Free Love still gives fans plenty to dance to, but in its quieter moments of reflection, Sylvan Esso reveals it has built something meant to last. [Cameron Scheetz]
Tim Heidecker, Fear Of Death
Given his status as an alt-comedy luminary (and music’s foremost chronicler of Herman Cain), it was perhaps necessary for Tim Heidecker to introduce Fear Of Death as a “Serious Album about Serious Topics.” But anyone who’s followed the comedian’s musical stylings over the last decade knows it’s no comedic lark; just because he’s singing about drinking piss doesn’t mean he’s not putting care into his rowdy brand of AM radio rock. Still, Fear Of Death is easily Heidecker’s best and most fully realized record yet, and not just for his earnest exploration of death’s inevitability and the future’s instability. Contributions from the Lemon Twigs’ Brian & Michael D’Addario and Weyes Blood singer Natalie Mering—who first connected with Heidecker as a guest on his Office Hours podcast—add weight and warmth to sweet, modest cuts like “Someone Who Can Handle You” and “Property,” the latter of which climaxes with a rousing and unexpected storm of brass. [Randall Colburn]
Sad13, Haunted Painting
Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis can make righteous anger feel more like an uproarious slumber party. “To laugh like it’s not ammunition,” she announces on the rollicking bop “Hysterical”: “To laugh like I don’t need permission.” Such statements of purpose are well-matched by the warped, explosive indie-pop nuggets found throughout Haunted Painting, her second solo album. While there are elements of her band’s vibe in here on art-damaged and ambitious tracks like “The Crow,” Dupuis’ knack for crafting ebullient grooves that are simultaneously warm musical blankets manages to wrap her often fierce and provocative lyrics in unexpectedly sweet packages (“Blood red suits me better when it’s bandaged up,” she sings on “Oops...!”). It’s good when she slows it down for gently anthemic ballads like “Take Care”; it’s great when she erupts in retro-rock bombast like “Market Hotel.” Either way, we’re getting something special—a bestie reminding you that you got this. [Alex McLevy]
Public Enemy, What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?
Can changing labels really make the difference? Public Enemy has returned to Def Jam after more than 20 years, and there’s a palpable energy on What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down? that’s been missing on many of the group’s latter-day studio releases. Ironically, the record isn’t even all that new: It’s sort of a do-over—or maybe correction—of PE’s sloppy and unfocused 2017 release, Nothing Is Quick In The Desert. Six of that release’s tracks have been repurposed here (unfortunately, the dreadful “Yesterday Man” is also among them), inserted among a bevy of booming original material that sounds like it picks up where 1999’s There’s A Poison Goin’ On left off, proudly out of step with contemporary sounds. Honestly, it’s a little difficult to say why What You Gonna Do... works where so many of the group’s 21st-century albums falter; it’s the same righteously hectoring boom-bap, same militant sputters from Chuck D, same hype-man antics from Flavor Flav (save for the surprisingly mournful “R.I.P. Blackat”), yet here, it slaps. Whatever chemistry brought the fire back, it’s good to hear. [Alex McLevy]