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

Chance The Rapper’s new single proves he hasn’t lost a step: 5 new releases we love

Yes, he is playing air drums.
Chance The Rapper
Screenshot: YouTube

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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Chance The Rapper, “The Heart & The Tongue”

[Self-released]

Chance The Rapper seems to be at an artistic crossroads. After the kaleidoscopic musical shift of The Big Day earned some blowback from people who just wanted more of the old mixtapes (and, okay, fewer skits), the artist canceled his world tour, wrote a song for the Steven Universe movie, and then entered quarantine, where he’s put on a series of ambitiously stylized virtual concerts that suggest the multihyphenate talent is busy figuring out the next phase of his evolution. “The Heart & The Tongue” is a confident reminder that, no matter how much time he spends behind the camera (he directed the song’s accompanying video), behind the mic is where he’s at his best. A thoughtful meditation on divided passions and creative conflict, it features some of the most inventively contoured lyricism he’s released, the verbal equivalent of an impressively choreographed, lengthy tracking shot. It’s soulful but subtle, calling up the echoes of his past releases while bending them into a more melancholic shape. [Alex McLevy]

Teenage Fanclub, Endless Arcade

[Merge Records, April 30]

There’s something comforting about knowing Teenage Fanclub is out there, keeping alive the spirit of old-school pop-rock with the best of them. As the band has matured, its throwback sounds have shifted somewhat—there’s more Preservation-era Kinks than Big Star in there, now—but the fundamentals remain as engaging as ever: The sweetly jangling guitars, winsome and romantic lyrics, and easygoing rhythms that mark its best work are in full force on Endless Arcade. Mostly absent are the more rocking sounds of 1990’s A Catholic Education, replaced with a gentler aesthetic, one that hearkens back to the lower-fi Teen-Beat indie pop of the late ’80s and early ’90s, while providing more of a showcase for the synths and keys that conjure up sunny flower-child vibes, even pulling in some Neil Young-esque melodies and downbeat Americana groove on tracks like “Back In The Day.” It’s a warm blanket of an album. [Alex McLevy]

Allie Crow Buckley, Moonlit And Devious

[Self-released]

Imagine Tori Amos recruiting Angelo Badalamenti and Secret Machines’ rhythm section to play a boozy set at an all-night blues lounge, and you’ll start to get a sense of the lush, hypnotic vibe of Allie Crow Buckley. The songs on her debut full-length, Moonlit And Devious (following 2019’s So Romantic EP), are languid and dense, full of thick low-end bass and shimmering synths, with spare guitar riffs periodically cutting through the fog to lend an air of mournfulness or menace. Even the rare upbeat number like “Hanging Tough,” with its 10,000 Maniacs-esque drive and Linda Ronstadt vocals, maintains an air of mystery, with its tales of “cruisin’ round solo, working hard in the astral plane.” It’s bewitching and bewildering in the best possible way, and on tracks like “Hasta La Vista” or “Gold Medallion” (the latter co-written with Sharon Van Etten), the musician fuses a bubbling pop sensibility to the darkness, making for a magnetic combination. [Alex McLevy]

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Nubiyan Twist, Freedom Fables

[Strut Records]

Fans of jazzy Afrobeat magic, rejoice: Nubiyan Twist has returned with a soundtrack for anyone wishing they were back in a smoky club, instead of stuck at home. Freedom Fables is a joyous celebration of genre-crossing grooves, an album equally comfortable summoning Blue Note-style jazz and 21st-century neo-soul beats. Following what could’ve been a debilitating loss (the departure of co-founding vocalist Nubiya Brandon), the group instead invited a wide-ranging assemblage of guest singers to bring a heady stew of new influences of musical flavors to the tracks, from rapper Soweto Kinch’s verses on “Buckle Up” to the classically inflected jazz vocals of Cherise on single “Flow.” That influx of talent seems to have reenergized the group, allowing it to cover an even wider terrain of styles and sounds than 2019’s Jungle Run, making for an eclectic party album held together by the band’s whirling dervish of Afro-jazz instrumentation and thumping rhythms. [Alex McLevy]

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Lucy Dacus, “Thumbs

[Matador Records]

We haven’t gotten a new original album from Lucy Dacus since 2018’s Historian, though months after that album’s release, Dacus started playing a new song in live performances. She asked attendees not to record it, so as to keep it a surprise for when it’d finally be released as a single–and her fans were nice enough to comply. For those who weren’t lucky enough to catch Dacus on tour pre-pandemic, the song became a huge mystery: Devotees wanted to know why those who caught her live shows were so massively obsessed with this new track. Well, now we all know why. The soothing, minimalist sound of “Thumbs” contrasts starkly with its dark lyrics, in which Dacus tells a friend she’d be ready to kill their estranged, shitty dad for them. The musician has inadvertently created a new asshole dad anthem, joining the ranks of Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” and Death Cab For Cutie’s “Styrofoam Plates.” It was well-worth the three-year wait for this knockout. [Tatiana Tenreyro]

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