Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney are back to mess with your heart: 5 new releases we love

Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Photo: Pete Townsend

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. Unless otherwise noted, all releases are now available.

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Matt Sweeney & Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Superwolves

[Drag City Records]

There’s a tensile push and pull between light and dark, life and death in Superwolves, the first album from Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, a.k.a. Will Oldham, since 2005’s Superwolf. In one song, they’re gently herding animals onto an ark, then gleefully stomping down a “hall of death” in another. As in so much of Oldham’s work over the past 20 years, the tone here is rarely static, shifting from playful to haunting to utterly bare, at times cutting very close to the bone. That Sweeney and Oldham never make clear just how any given song will “break” is part of what gives the album its energy. “Good To My Girls” and “God Is Waiting” especially hold their charges: “No endpoint tantalizes,” Oldham whisper-sings on the latter. To create the album, the pair at first worked separately, trading lyrics (Oldham) then guitar melodies (Sweeney), before hammering out the songs together. The process has made for a true “yes and” conversation, the kind where each speaker recognizes an essential quality in the other’s offering before making his own contribution. Here the dynamic deepens and complicates what either man can do alone. [Laura Adamczyk]

Alfa Mist, Bring Backs

[Anti-]

The unexpected magic of Alfa Mist’s work has always been his uncanny ability to take the most traditionalist of jazz styles and structures and twist them ever so slightly, revitalizing and reworking sounds and rhythms that might otherwise feel old hat. That trend continues on Bring Backs, a record that follows his instinct for fusing hip-hop beats and retro-jazz sounds, but pairs it with inspired new material. Whether it’s his low-register rapping on “Organic Rust” (so good it leaves you wishing he had threaded it throughout more of the album), the superb guitar work on opener “Teki,” or the Mingus-meets-De La Soul weaving around the centerpiece poem (courtesy of Hilary Thomas) on “Last Round (Bumper Car),” the album keeps pushing at the stylistic borders of the music, exploring new avenues of instrumental groove and making even the mellowest of old-school melodies sound invigorating and hypnotic. [Alex McLevy]

Manchester Orchestra, The Million Masks Of God

[Loma Vista Recordings]

Manchester Orchestra has literally grown up with frontman Andy Hull, who was a teenager when the group put out debut album I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child in 2006. That album feels like something a particularly introspective kid would make, but subsequent releases have replaced its relatable anxieties with bigger and more complex productions that are mostly just louder. With The Million Masks Of God, Manchester Orchestra has landed on a more conceptually coherent version of the storytelling approach used on 2017s A Black Mile To The Surface, expanding on the worries of previous albums with songs that more directly reckon with death and what comes after it (the band thinks of these two as “movie albums” that work as narratives, inspired by Hull and bandmate Robert McDowell’s work on film scores), The songs here are often as big as ever, like first single “Bed Head,” but Manchester is at its best when it pulls back and lets Hull’s songwriting shine on tracks like somber love song “Telepath.” [Sam Barsanti]

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Yola, “Diamond Studded Shoes

[Easy Eye Sound]

Yola’s knockout debut album Walk Through Fire announced the British singer-songwriter as a soaring new voice with an intoxicating throwback appeal, one that garnered her a handful of Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist. Now, she’s using that voice to encourage a movement with the rollicking “Diamond Studded Shoes,” an early single from sophomore effort Stand For Myself, due out this summer. The track kicks things off on an optimistic note, easing into a propulsive groove, but this is no laidback summer jam—Yola archly deploys a nostalgic rhythm to rouse listeners from their complacency, warning of those who will “buy diamond studded shoes with our taxes / Anything to keep us divided.” Armed with her arresting vocals and an electric guitar, she’s crafted a galvanizing fight song for the disenfranchised, one that feels perfectly timed to shake the world out of its late-pandemic rut and have everyone dancing in the streets. An infectious rallying cry to the working class, “Diamond Studded Shoes” could well be this young decade’s answer to “9 To 5.” [Cameron Scheetz]

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Split Single, “(Nothing You Can Do) To End This Love

[Inside Outside]

It’s finally getting warmer, and you probably have a vaccine appointment in front of or behind you. Need a pop-positive anthem to get you through ’til your two weeks post-shot are up? Look no further than Split Single’s first single from its upcoming third album Amplificado, “(Nothing You Can Do) To End This Love.” The trio—led by singer/guitarist Jason Narducy, backed by R.E.M.’s Mike Mills on bass, and Narducy’s Bob Mould/Superchunk bandmate Jon Wurster on drums—layers enough energetically hooky guitar on top of that impressive rhythm section to keep its joyous pop from pratfalling into sickly sweetness. “To End This Love” is defiantly triumphant, a sunbeam breaking through a stormcloud, able to lift spirits in just three short minutes while selling its bumper-sticker lyrics like “Love will not wait / Or bend for hate.” Just let yourself play it on repeat for a while, and don’t worry if you wear it out: Amplificado arrives on June 25. [Gwen Ihnat]

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