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: Taylor Swift returns with the confident pop of Lover, and Ezra Furman takes to the barricades on the angry, cathartic Twelve Nudes. They’re both out now, along with the following five recommendations.
Whitney, Forever Turned Around
[Secretly Canadian, August 30]
“[I]f people liked Light Upon The Lake, they are really going to fuck with this,” Whitney’s Julien Ehrlich recently told DIY Magazine about Forever Turned Around. He’s not wrong, either, as the new album is another 30 minutes of warm, blissed-out campfire folk in the vein of their much-loved 2016 debut. Not everything’s the same—the lyrics focus less on relationships and more on the anxieties of life, death, and being young in 2019, and the arrangements are more apt to reach towards the treetops, due in no small part to Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek fortifying themselves with a robust backing band. Instrumental cut “Rhododendron,” for example, finds trumpeter Will Miller veering into the psychedelic, while the lush strings of “Valleys (My Love)” shimmer like sunbeams over water. Still, the band might be most affecting in its leaner moments, like on the sweet, skeletal “Used To Be Lonely,” which contains what’s probably Ehrlich’s most affecting vocal performance to date. [Randall Colburn]
Little Brother, May The Lord Watch
[Imagine Nation Music/For Members Only/EMPIRE, August 20]
It’s been nine years since Little Brother’s odds-and-sods farewell album Leftback marked the end of a project that garnered a fervent cult following—and collaborations with the likes of Kanye West and Lil Wayne—but never broke through to a wide audience. Yet Phonte Coleman and Big Pooh’s formula remains nearly unchanged. All the familiar elements are in place on May the Lord Watch: neo-soul choruses underline songs about perseverance and embracing life as a middle-aged hip-hopper. As inheritors of a tradition that dates back to Native Tongues, Little Brother excel at evoking middle-class black life on “The Feel” and “Black Magic (Make It Better)” with joy and pathos. There’s also a running theme in the form of fake network UBN (“U Black Niggas”), and corny skits featuring Questlove, Peter Rosenberg and other indie-rap notables. May the Lord Watch doesn’t reach the heights of their best album—the classic 2003 debut The Listening—but it may be their funniest. [Mosi Reeves]
Black Belt Eagle Scout, At The Party With My Brown Friends
[Saddle Creek, August 30]
Unlike most whisper-sung indie rock albums of late, At The Party With My Brown Friends doesn’t place its protagonist at the end of her rope. Instead, Katherine Paul, the songwriter behind the moniker Black Belt Eagle Scout, is doing just fine. That’s saying something, given the indigenous singer-songwriter has plenty of reasons to feel upset, like constant racial injustices and a yearning heart that won’t rest. Barely a year after releasing her worried full-length debut, Paul sounds at peace and brimming with love—and it gives these songs an ability to uplift the listener. On “Going to the Beach With Haley,” her voice cradles you, swinging back and forth as muted drums beat nearby. Elsewhere, like on “Run It to Ya,” it builds to an escalating post-rock crescendo. Throughout the album, her voice cascades gently, acting not just as a carrying case for emotion, but as a soothing instrument in itself. It’s a transformation that makes Black Belt Eagle Scout sound more assured and driven, building off last year’s breakout moment. [Nina Corcoran]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Joyero, Release The Dogs
[Merge, August 23]
As half of Wye Oak, Andy Stack makes an extraordinary amount of sound for one person: It’s a joy to watch him drum with one hand while playing a keyboard or triggering a sample with the other. So it should come as little surprise that his first solo venture—under the name Joyero—does wonders with layers: a drum loop here, a humming keyboard there, an acoustic guitar poking its head out in just the right way. It’s all balanced by Stack’s heretofore under-heard voice, which is more melancholy intonation than singing for the most part—it’s more like another instrument on Release The Dogs than the focal point. His lyrics are worth craning your neck to decipher, though: These nine songs offer an impressionistic but gorgeous examination of heartbreak. So not only is he proficient in a dozen or more instruments, but at lining up beautiful words with their sounds. With the number of records and bands he’s been a part of, it’s almost unfair that this counts as a debut album—it’s so far ahead of most. [Josh Modell]
Pusha T, “Sociopath” and “Coming Home”
[Getting Out Our Dreams, Inc./Def Jam Recordings]
Pusha T’s got two decades of work playing the villain— the Marlo-quoting, phlegm-spewing, Drake-murdering antichrist of hip-hop. But anyone doing a spit-take over the straitlaced social activism of new single “Coming Home” hasn’t been listening too closely to the emcee, who has never shied away from specifying American conservatism as the fuel to his fire. The track, which is intended to promote the rapper’s commendable Third Strike Campaign, sounds beamed in from 2007, with Kanye layering chipmunk soul beneath an extremely unexpected contribution from Ms. Lauryn Hill. She sounds great, of course, and it all works, but Pusha sounds much more at home rapping through gritted teeth on his other new single, the Daytona outtake “Sociopath.” It’s as close as the rapper’s ever gotten to a love song, extolling his partner’s ruthlessness until she grabs the mic and finishes the song for him like it was a bottle of Veuve he was sipping. Pusha may not be a villain IRL, but there’s a reason he always plays one. [Clayton Purdom]