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A-Sides: Earl Sweatshirt’s astonishing Rap Songs, plus Grimes, The 1975, and more

J.I.D. (Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images), Grimes (Image: “We Appreciate Power” single art), Earl Sweatshirt (Photo: Steven Taylor), Matty Healy of The 1975 (Photo: Magdalena Wosinska), and Karen O (Photo: Eliot Lee Hazel)

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.

Grimes, “We Appreciate Power” (featuring Hana)

[4AD, November 29]

Charli XCX may have pined for “1999” in a nostalgia-drenched video earlier this year, but Grimes is zeroing in on the late pre-millennium with uncanny specificity on her new single “We Appreciate Power.” With its hyper-compressed buzzsaw guitars and chugging industrial drums, it conjures memories of Garbage, mid-period Marilyn Manson, and the post-rocktronica roar of The Matrix soundtrack. Of course, this being Grimes, there’s a vast sci-fi conceit behind the song, here welcoming our eventual A.I. overlords with lines like “We pledge allegiance to the world’s most powerful computer.” (She’s working with long-time collaborator Hana here, singing from the vantage point of a pro-totalitarianism girl group.) Anyway, it’s proof that whatever the artist has been working on since 2015’s excellent Art Angels, she’s just as Grimes-y as ever. Just try not to think about Elon Musk. [Clayton Purdom]


Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs

[Tan Cressida/Columbia, November 30]

You sift through Some Rap Songs, Earl Sweatshirt’s long-awaited new record, discovering in its sonic tapestry aphoristic wisdom and revelations of shell-shocked honesty, often within the same bar (from “Eclipse”: “The herd hungry, gotta eat / Why it’s so muddy in the creek, poet?”). The artist born Thebe Kgositsile was a compelling rapper the first time we heard him, at the age of 16; now 24, he’s at the vanguard of the form, charting a connective thread through James Baldwin, Curtis Mayfield, MF Doom, and Shabazz Palaces, and proudly creating for himself a collective of like-minded modern iconoclasts (MIKE, Medhane, Standing On The Corner, Solange). The largely self-produced record is full of fractured loops—ghostly soul, underwater pianos, shabby percussion—that he raps alongside with astonishing honesty (“Peanut”) and virtuosity (“December 24”). At under 25 minutes, it’s not a lot, especially coming three years after his last album—but it’s also a bounty. We’ll be picking these verses apart for years. [Clayton Purdom]


The 1975, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

[Polydor, November 30]

British pop chameleons The 1975 trades in hyper-self-awareness, but expertly cultivates both ironic distance and glimmers of sincerity. This deliberate line-blurring explains why the band’s obvious homages to other genres and artists (not to mention stream-of-consciousness philosophical musings) have always felt clever and charming rather than lazy. On A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, The 1975 leans even further into no-pretense vulnerability, ensuring songs sound wiser (“Love It If We Made It,” an unflinching look at modern society’s moral failings) and more hopeful (“Sincerity Is Scary,” an examination of what it means to let façades fall away). Although songs such as “Give Yourself A Try” can shimmer with electro effervescence, A Brief Inquiry’s overall feel is measured and introspective. Highlight “How To Draw/Petrichor” is a slice of angelic, Disney-soundtrack dream pop that dissolves into a glitchy electronic hopscotch that resembles a cozier James Blake, while other songs nod to hazy SoundCloud rap, pastoral jazz, and gospel-tinged slow jams. [Annie Zaleski]


We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe here.


J.I.D., DiCaprio 2

[Dreamville, November 26]

J.I.D.’s The Never Story was a sleeper success last year, on which an unheralded member of J. Cole’s Dreamville crew quietly released an album full of sinuously structured mic workouts. The new DiCaprio 2 (a sequel to a 2016 EP) is a huge step forward in probably every way. He’s a dazzling emcee—quick and quiet, sometimes slow and easy, over opulent beats that seem more interested in creating a mood than a radio single. The drums slap, when they decide to hit; it’s not so much a rebuttal of the prevailing Atlanta sound as it is a missing aesthetic link between Zaytoven and The Dungeon Family. J.I.D.’s timbre and diction make him a dead ringer for Kendrick, but he lacks that rapper’s self-consciousness and weighty ambition—which is weirdly refreshing, in practice. DiCaprio 2 is the sound of a uniquely capable rapper going the fuck off. [Clayton Purdom]


Karen O & Danger Mouse, “Lux Prima”

[BMG, November 16]

For almost the first 90 seconds of its nine-minute running time, “Lux Prima” is little more than a simple synth pattern with some ambient background swells, like a Philip Glass melody refashioned for a children’s piano lesson. But then the drums enter—a laid-back, jazzy rhythm, and suddenly those synths sound a lot more like the soundtrack to a swoony ’70s arthouse film. And that’s just the first third; the song proper starts again at the three-minute mark. With Karen O’s smoky vocals, a stuttering drum pattern, and girl-group backing sounds, the singer and her collaborator Danger Mouse have created a cool and alluring track of retro-soul grooves. As my colleague Erik Adams approvingly put it regarding the producer’s instrumentation, “Up to his old Morricone tricks again, I see.” That’s a fitting assessment of this song, easily one of the best things Danger Mouse has done in the past half-decade. God willing, the rest of the upcoming joint album is this good. [Alex McLevy]


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