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.
The Strokes, The New Abnormal
A Strokes album on par with the band’s classics—2001’s Is This It and 2003’s Room On Fire—is probably too much to hope for at this point, but those who jumped ship after the first two are missing out: Every album since, though few and far between, has featured a smattering of memorable jams. Their sixth, the Rick Rubin-produced The New Abnormal, is the most consistent of the post-peak period, with a winning hit-to-miss ratio and a cantankerous mix of crowd-pleasers and weird diversions. That makes sense considering the generally accepted story that singer Julian Casablancas and the rest of the band have been locked in a perpetual push-pull between out-there experiments (as seen in Casablancas’ solo records) and the more traditionally structured rockers that made them famous. There’s plenty of the latter here, with “Bad Decisions” and “Brooklyn Bridge” providing the sing-alongs. Then there’s loopy stuff like “Eternal Summer,” which one minute bites the vocal melody from The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost In You” (they even get a co-writing credit) and then veers into Pink Floyd (circa The Wall) territory, nonsensically but joyfully. [Josh Modell]
Laura Marling, Song For Our Daughter
Over the last decade, Laura Marling has modernized the stirring folk of ’70s artists like Linda Perhacs and Sibylle Baier with her soothing vocal range; it’s a tone that comforts, especially when outlining moments of heartbreak and pain. Song For Our Daughter continues that momentum with beautiful, inward excavations like “Held Down,” “Fortune,” and “Hope We Meet Again.” Only now, in the midst of a global pandemic, Marling’s lyrics flicker with new meaning: “Only the strong survive / Only the wrong relive their lives,” “No one was prepared / But we all perform like we’ve done it all before,” “Your fortune can change / At least we agree that we wasted our time.” Of course, Marling didn’t intend for this to happen—the record is her attempt to prepare a daughter for the fragmented trauma, infinite love, and robbed innocence of life as a woman—but the reality of this unintentional re-contextualization just makes the album, a beacon of companionship amid turmoil, hit that much harder. [Nina Corcoran].
The Norwegian artist Jenny Hval outlines the soft, shifting borders of a realm between electro-pop and art music that she dreamed into being and inhabits alone. She populates it with imaginative concepts and translates it into performance-art stage shows, but at the center of the labyrinth, you always find a beautiful voice singing arresting melodies. Her new single, “Bonus Material,” vividly illustrates her ability to form chimeric worlds from the merest material. At the start, she opens her mouth and sings, “In the second I open my mouth to sing,” trapped between mirrors. It’s as if the words were the source rather than the substance of the song, which springs forth ex nihilo, hovers mysteriously for three minutes, and shimmers away. With the benevolent ghostly presence of Julee Cruise, Hval’s afterlife for one is finely attuned to this moment of widespread isolation. [Brian Howe]
Hamilton Leithauser, The Loves Of Your Life
Though life is uncertain these days, you can depend on a few consistencies: the importance of hand washing, the comforting power of nature, and Hamilton Leithauser’s voice. Hypnotically soothing one minute and bombastic the next, the onetime Walkmen frontman has a howl for the ages, and he uses it to great effect on the excellent The Loves Of Your Life. The record, with roots in Tin Pan Alley, country, and folk, is typically catchy and cathartic. Leithauser’s songs work best when he’s just barely out of his comfort zone: channeling a hushed Leonard Cohen on “Here They Come,” which bursts into a rollicking barnburner halfway through; employing his kids and wife for background vocals on opener “The Garbage Men.” Jazz pianist and Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste contributes textures that make this a satisfying headphones album for an era of solitude.[David Brusie]
Jackie Lynn, Jacqueline
Four years after introducing us to the torrid story of Jackie Lynn in a 2016 EP, Circuit Des Yeux frontwoman Haley Fohr brings us Jacqueline. Backed by fellow Chicagoans Bitchin’ Bajas (Cave’s Cooper Crain, Rob Frye, and Dan Quinlivan), Fohr delves further into the story of a Tennessee drifter with a dark past and uncertain future. Musically a complete shift from Circuit’s indie vibes, Fohr’s striking baritone meshes well with the trippy synth riffs on “Casino Queen” and the sleepy strums of “Dream St.” At times channeling David Byrne, at other times Robert Smith, Fohr brings us the experimental record—pulling disco, country, and rock and melting them at high heat—that we need in 2020. And as we wander around our sudden dystopia with scarves over our mouths, Jackie Lynn’s fascination with mask imagery will appear prophetic. [Nina Hernandez]