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.
Anderson Paak’s been ramping up toward his big Aftermath debut, Oxnard, for most of 2018, and the result is fun enough, if a little stage-managed and a lot lecherous. Its most appealing quality isn’t Paak, in fact, but a glitzy roster of guests, including the previously released Kendrick Lamar collaboration “Tints,” and new spots from Q-Tip, BJ The Chicago Kid, and Kadhja Bonet. “Anywhere” is far from the flashiest track on the record, but it feels like a glimpse into a breezier, more open-air effort that could’ve been, with a slinky beat that pulls a scene-stealing throwback performance out of Snoop Dogg, reminiscing on G-funk: “Three summers before The Chronic hit the streets.” The Last Artful, Dodgr rides in like One In A Million-era Aaliyah, and Paak floats through the cracks in their performances, his lover-man schtick affable for a change. It’s a weird track to drop at Thanksgiving, but keep it in your pocket for a playlist next summer. [Clayton Purdom]
Mariah Carey, Caution
Although pop and R&B remain saturated with Mariah Carey’s influence, the 2010s have seen the singer’s sales diminish dramatically and her music upstaged by drama like that 2016 New Year’s Eve fiasco. Caution, Carey’s 15th studio album, follows the worst-performing LP of her nearly 30-year career, 2014’s insanely/amazingly titled Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse. Caution’s by no means a seismic comeback, but it is slick, sensual, and focused. There are no outright bad tracks here, honestly—it’s expensive-sounding, immaculately produced R&B—but “Giving Me Life,” produced by and featuring Blood Orange, and Timbaland joint “8th Grade” are the most interesting, highlighting Carey’s unparalleled vocal delivery and pushing the music a little more off the beaten path. [Kelsey J. Waite]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.
Chicago’s queen of sex-positive rap, Cupcakke, returns with her second album of the year, Eden. (Ephorize was released back in January.) As usual, the album is dominated by cheeky, filthy couplets (“He come quick like Amazon Prime” is a good one) over banging dance beats, with repetitive choruses designed to get a room full of people jumping in unison. On this front, lead single “Blackjack” is a highlight, along with “Garfield” and the delirious, laugh-out-loud reveal of its chorus (“I got a fat cat, fat cat, fat cat… Garfield”) over kitschy Casio horns and reggaeton beats. But Eden is also an exciting showcase for Cupcakke’s rapid-fire delivery and development as a socially conscious lyricist. Both are featured on “Cereal And Water,” which touches on systemic racism, sexual violence, and poverty. Cupcakke can’t help but be witty, though: “Black people don’t drive home, just take the bus back / Cops out here killing us like we’re some Rugrats,” she raps, finding absurdity and humor even in the heartbreaking reality of police brutality. [Katie Rife]
“Welcome to Los Angeles, motherfucker!” the rapper Busdriver howls toward the end of Brainfeeder X, a 36-track compilation celebrating 10 years of Flying Lotus’ genre-eviscerating label, and he’s right: You can almost smell the sativa in the air. The record’s a snapshot of the musical galaxy birthed from FlyLo’s DNA, where tracks melt into each other like shape-shifters at a late-night club. Originally born out of Los Angeles’ hallucinatory beat scene, the roster now spans artists from Brooklyn to Berlin, all unified under some mutating and indefinable shared ideology, whether it’s the lithe space funk of Georgia Anne Muldrow or Dorian Concept’s big-tent beats. The Brainfeeder sound encompasses a host of discernible subgenres—experimental hip-hop, astro-jazz, neo-neo-soul—but it’s mostly an abstract, know-it-when-you-hear-it-type situation. X isn’t a sampler platter or a victory lap but a portrait of a collective still wildly alive—over half of the tracks here are new or unreleased—making it equally rewarding to label newcomers and veterans. [Clayton Purdom]
Kiwi outfit Tiny Ruins still have a low profile on American shores, despite success in their homeland that includes sophomore album Brightly Painted One winning Best Alternative Album at the New Zealand Music Awards. But that might change with Olympic Girls, the new record due out in early 2019, and just-released single “School Of Design.” A sparse acoustic guitar kicks things off, as singer Hollie Fullbrook recalls an empty school of design, with “fresh paint wet on the walls.” But as the track continues and bass, marimba, violin, and more begin to creep in, it takes on an elegiac air, and becomes something more than just a story of an unusual excursion. Reminiscent of folksy late-’60s art-film scores, the stylish story-song balladry would fit right in between The Graduate soundtrack and Joni Mitchell, albeit with Fullbrook’s cool, smoky alto maintaining a detached air that keeps it from schmaltz. It’s a lilting retro number that suggests great things from the upcoming album. [Alex McLevy]