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.
Mark Lanegan Band, Somebody’s Knocking
Throughout his solo career, Mark Lanegan has flirted with electronic accents, notably in the form of grinding drum machines and grimy keyboards. But on the fantastic Somebody’s Knocking, he goes full-on apocalyptic synth pop—with a side of scorching post-punk guitars, gritty garage-blues textures, and unsentimental melancholy. Lanegan’s cigarette-ash voice is a perfect match for the charred Americana of “Paper Hat” and the Cure-esque psychedelic storms of “Gazing From The Shore,” while the bruising “Dark Disco Jag” lives up to its billing, with its ominous perforated rhythms and bustling synth streaks. On the danceable-by-design “Penthouse High,” meanwhile, he’s a gruff narrator riding a surge of spidery keyboards and pulsating beats. Fans of pre-Forever Now Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode’s electrified twang, and New Order’s tidy new wave will find much to love here. [Annie Zaleski]
Big Thief, Two Hands
For all their worn-in melodies and comforting sonic burrs, Big Thief’s songs give off an almost literary dark glow. On “The Toy,” singer Adrianne Lenker reassures herself of a toy’s reality amid images of children burning and mass tombs. With album centerpiece “Not,” she seems to gaze into some Lovecraftian abyss, explicable only through subtraction. But the new Two Hands, released just five months after the Brooklyn quartet’s equally transportive U.F.O.F. and recorded only days afterward, distinguishes itself through a more common sort of conjuring: that is, of musicians sharing space and locking in. It’s their most intensely musical record yet, from the tinder sticks percussion of the title track to the dark bloom of “Shoulders.” And when was the last time a guitar solo felt as structurally essential as the oversaturated cascade that eventually washes over “Not”? This, ultimately, is the band’s greatest trick: breathing new life into old forms, reconfiguring the ancient materials of American music into something dangerous, beautiful, and—most of all—strange. [Clayton Purdom]
Floating Points, Crush
We already unpacked some recent-nostalgia reference points when English electronic producer Sam Shepherd—a.k.a. Floating Points—dropped “LesAlpx,” a dance-floor-forward single from his new album, Crush, so let’s just talk about how this record sounds: grand, sumptuous, and symphonic in its sweep. Its ambition is established in the first track, “Falaise,” a robot-orchestra overture of holographic vividness, drenched in the scintillant tone of the Buchla (the analog synth even cooler than Moog) that shapes the whole production. With this rich palette, Shepherd trots out all his tricks, from the starry syrup and lush syncopation of the Aphex Twin-like “Last Bloom” to the utopian drum and bass of “Environments.” On “Anasickmodular,” molten synth rivulets gradually overflow from a haunted U.K. garage rhythm in the mold of Burial. On “Bias,” an arpeggio sparkles through a storm cloud of cymbals and whirs before a jungle break, while the electronic ambient excursion “Sea-Watch” practically makes your speakers leak. If you prefer electronic music with cohesive album aspirations, this could be your favorite thing since Jon Hopkins. [Brian Howe]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Jónsi & Alex Somers, Lost & Found
Jónsi & Alex Somers’ Riceboy Sleeps is almost too beautiful. To call it an “ambient” record feels wrong—there’s no way its lush, mountainous acoustics could operate as background noise. Lost & Found, on the other hand, works a touch better in that regard. A surprise LP—and, per its liner notes, a “sibling album” to Riceboy Sleeps—the six-track collection weaves in subdued synth work and tape hiss with the acoustic soundscapes and choral swells of its predecessor, resulting in a piece that soothes the senses instead of overwhelming them. “Boy,” for example, has all the hallmarks of Riceboy, but its crackling spine and modulated choir complicate its beauty—it’s more of a blanket to crawl under than an open sky to soar through. There’s still plenty to swoon over: Closer “Wind In Our Ears” is a radiant sunrise in the vein of Riceboy’s “Happiness.” It’s leavened somewhat by firmer textures—tumbling stones, perhaps, or distant fireworks—but it still sings with longing, hope, and defiance. [Randall Colburn]
Indie soul rocker Laetitia Tamko, a.k.a. Vagabon, is going through an evolution on her self-titled sophomore album. Gone are the scrappy, guitar-driven harmonies that defined Infinite Worlds, making way for a more experimental, synth-bolstered soundscape that still feels heartfelt—and way more personal. Vagabon is a collection born of anxiety, a product of an artist who hit a creative wall upon her return from a successful tour. But she eventually overcame industry pressures and found her footing as a producer, subverting genre with a combination of neo-soul poetry, gauzy vocals, and digital undertones. Swimming against the album’s calming current is the vibrant dance track “Water Me Down,” bound together with a buoyant, thumping beat and a clean melody. Vagabon has processed the complexities and frustrations of her relationships until something inherently hopeful materialized. [Shannon Miller]