Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

5 new releases we love: The Flaming Lips get quietly revolutionary, and more

The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips
Photo: George Salisbury

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.

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Flaming Lips, American Head

[Warner Bros., September 11]

Where do you find some semblance of peace in a crazed, broken, aflame pandemic world? If you’re The Flaming Lips, you may partake in a few mind-altering substances. But typical of the band, those myriad drug references are just a gateway to the true solace: namely, some of the Lips’ most stirring, emotional music since The Soft Bulletin. In the videos for American Head, head Lip Wayne Coyne tries to wrap himself in an American flag as he and the rest of the band are encased in individual transparent bubbles, aptly depicting the desolate state of affairs in the country they named the album after. Yet the songs themselves dare to offer strength and hope: in other people, as in “My Religion Is You,” or just by trying to make the best of things in “You N Me Selling Weed.” The answer to “Will You Return / When You Come Down” remains open-ended, but the musical journey is a soothing trip in and of itself, enlivened by angry guitars but laced with oscillatory strings—much like the rest of the quietly revolutionary record. [Gwen Ihnat]

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Exhalants, Atonement

[Hex Records, September 11]

Churning with the sturm und drang of a thousand pissed-off noise heads, Exhalants have evolved from the Unwound-meets-Unsane promise of their 2018 debut into something like the perfect storm of math rock, indie noise, and hardcore thrash. If you ever listened to Stnnng and thought, “Hmmm, this could stand to be a little more metal,” then Atonement is the record for you. Running the gamut from the roar of opener “The Thorn You Carry In Yr Side” to the lilting late-’90s post-rock that opens “Definitions” to the straight-up chunka-chunka stomp of “Crucifix”—with its David-Yow-at-Headbanger’s-Ball start-stop riffage—the record manages to seamlessly integrate these different elements without ever tipping too far into one genre or losing its inspired integration of melody and math-like arrangements. The band is far too heavy to ever be mistaken for anything gentler, but the commitment to teasing out moments of beauty throughout these tracks pushes Exhalants’ cathartic noise somewhere new—call it hardcore shoegaze, and it sounds wonderfully alive. [Alex McLevy]

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Kamauu, “Mango (feat. Adeline)

[Atlantic Records, September 4]

Brooklyn-based soul-funk artist Kamauu returns post-“BOA” and “Far Rockaway” with a syrupy-sweet groove, and not a moment too soon. “Mango,” a collaboration with funk songbird Adeline, is the mellifluous equivalent of a leisurely stroll, complete with a lovely, meandering bass line and gentle horns. But its kind, easygoing vibe are tools to dull the inherent heartbreak of a story about a former couple making peace with their ending. Kamauu and Adeline sing of the kind of closure that most can only dream of: “If you found some other dude / What do I do if he loves you truly / How could I not love him too / If he improves you more than I used to.” Not one to pass up on an opportunity to crack open his chest and bare his soul, “Mango” finds Kamauu singing sweetly of love that isn’t lost, but evolved. [Shannon Miller]

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Kelsea Ballerini, ballerini

[Black River Records, September 11]

Floating between genres is a delicate balancing act for any artist evolving beyond their initial fanbase. Kelsea Ballerini has taken a page from both Taylor Swift’s and Shania Twain’s books, making like the former by infusing her country music with increasingly prominent pop elements over time, and now following the latter by releasing a second version of her recent third album, kelsea. ballerini has the same 13 songs, but strips them down to the basics. These aren’t Lady Gaga-level reimaginings, but the acoustic accompaniments on ballerini allow for the album’s witty and wordy verses to shine, and add weight to many of the choruses. “club” (Ballerini hates capital letters, apparently) undergoes one of the biggest transformations; the song’s melancholy message is a better fit as an introspective ballad than a driving banger. “bragger” is another standout, which has morphed from a cousin of Camila Cabello’s “Havana” into a haunting folk song with harmonies that would make The Chicks proud. [Patrick Gomez]

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Thurston Moore, “Siren

[Daydream Library Series, September 2]

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It’s as familiar to long-time indie-rock fans as David Yow’s howl: that strumming, minor-key harmonic thrum of Thurston Moore’s guitar. With “Siren,” Moore’s new 12-minute epic (off forthcoming album By The Fire, out September 25), the musician returns with one of the most engaging melodies he’s penned since Sonic Youth’s “The Diamond Sea.” Along with drummer Jem Doulton, My Bloody Valentine’s Deb Googe on bass, and James Sedwards’ second guitar, the song rides along on the eddies of a gently ringing back-and-forth between notes, the mellow tempo and languid instrumentation rising like a cloud of smoke into the aural sky (whether that cloud is composed of your substance of choice is entirely up to you). His vocals don’t even start until nearly nine minutes in, the romance of the music paired to his gently murmured words. It’s a paean to love that bends its mild dissonance to loveliness. [Alex McLevy]

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