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

Conway The Machine gets playful, Paul McCartney gets reimagined: 5 new releases we love

Conway The Machine (Photo: Jawad Mahmood) and Paul McCartney (Photo: Mary McCartney)
Conway The Machine (Photo: Jawad Mahmood) and Paul McCartney (Photo: Mary McCartney)

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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Conway The Machine, La Maquina

[Griselda Records/Drumwork/EMPIRE]

“Only been here for maybe five years, they already speak of my legacy.” Conway The Machine drops this bit of braggadocio on “KD,over a simple, thumping rhythm and tinkling piano keys courtesy of producer Murda Beatz. He’s not wrong: He and the rest of the Griselda crew are a bona fide phenomenon, and on the rapper’s second album of 2021 (following February’s collaboration with Big Ghost Ltd, If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed), Conway again proves that his prolific output is no impediment to consistency of quality. Once more, a stellar roster of producers, including Bangladesh, Cardiak, and Cosmo Beats, delivers the goods, but there’s a more wide-ranging and playful vibe this time out. Spiritual godfather Alchemist understandably still takes center stage, with the 2 Chainz-guesting “200 Pies,” a lilting, jazzy number, more soulful space-out than grimy boom-bap. It features a verse Conway likes so much, he starts to repeat it before Chainz cuts in. “Grace” is downright Missy Elliott-esque in its bounce, and the family reunion with Westside Gunn and Benny The Butcher on closer “S.E. Gang” sounds as joyful as fierceness can get. [Alex McLevy]

Paul McCartney, McCartney III Imagined

[Capitol Records]

Paul McCartney takes another crack at his recent solo album with McCartney III Imagined, enlisting a slew of collaborators to reinterpret each track. The best of these takes the source material, turns it inside-out, and becomes something new, like Phoebe Bridgers’ beautiful, breathy, slide-guitar-filled version of “Seize The Day” and Dominic Fike’s impassioned “The Kiss Of Venus,” which transforms the original from a wistful lament to a romantic rant. Rapper Anderson .Paak’s off-kilter beat and nostalgic keys push “When Winter Comes” into a new, appealing light, even with McCartney’s vocals still front and center; Blood Orange performs a similar function with dramatic horns on “Deep Down.” St. Vincent never really steps up from backing status on “Women And Wives,” however, and the fun that a few other collaborators like Damon Albarn and Beck probably had tinkering in the studio with one of the greatest songwriters on the planet doesn’t really translate. But the other, more successful mashups make Imagined well-worth a listen. [Gwen Ihnat]

The Armed, ULTRAPOP

[Sargent House]

The first two tracks on ULTRAPOP—the Fuck Buttons-like title track and “All Futures” with its shimmering synths—could have listeners wondering if this really is the radical reinvention of the band’s sound teased by its promotional campaign and the band/art collective’s usual hall-of-mirrors advance publicity. Then you get to “Masunaga Vapors,” and think, “Ha, never mind.” Yes, there’s a newfound sonic diversity to the album, but it’s still based in the group’s commitment to the absolute utmost pummeling intensity; it’s as much a hardcore record as it is a Katy Perry album played at 10x speed and run through a dozen distortion boxes. In other words, it’s still blissed-out catharsis, delivered via a wall-of-noise aesthetic and frenetic punk-rock pacing. If you fed Fucked Up and Andrew W.K. a dozen hits of ecstasy and an eight-ball of cocaine—and then invited Benjamin John Power over to DJ on top of it—you might get something as immersive, engaging, and musically lustral as ULTRAPOP. [Alex McLevy]

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Son Lux, Tomorrows III

[City Slang]

With III, Son Lux completes its ambitious Tomorrows project, a triptych of aching, searching music, so moving and powerful that it actually rises to meet its outsized artistic ambitions. “I’ve been afraid to let you go,” singer Ryan Lott repeats on the fragile, pulsing “Plans We Make,” and it sounds like he could be talking about Tomorrows as a whole, a conceptually head-spinning arrangement whose final installment might be more daringly diverse in its sounds and aesthetics, but which stands as a testament to the group’s bold embrace of experimentation in search of new ways to unlock a listener’s heart. There are still the brilliantly fluttering rhythms, courtesy of Ian Chang, now breaking down and re-starting within the songs themselves, instead of merely between them (nowhere better than on the vocoder-assisted “Come Recover”). And the soundscapes, painstakingly built on Rafiq Bhatia’s sonic assemblages and Lott’s delicate vocals (with guest appearances from Holland Andrews and others), rise and fall with a soulful yet icy beauty, once more conjuring visions of enigmatic, David Lynch-ian grace, here with a lyrical bent that turns warily hopeful. Like an operatic Radiohead shot through with the spirit of modern-art R&B, Son Lux has pulled off something extraordinary—and extraordinarily beautiful. [Alex McLevy]

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Orla Gartland, “Zombie!

[The Orchard]

Perhaps the highest compliment that can be awarded to Orla Gartland’s new single, “Zombie!” is that it sounds like the kind of anthem that LPX would deliver, a fusion of rock and pop and a little bit of acoustic folk that nonetheless ends up as soaring and anthemic as the end of one of John Hughes’ films. The song radiates with exuberance and frustration, as Gartland’s lyrics address the steam-engine pressure that builds from someone who feels trapped by gendered constraints—specifically, men who have been taught to repress their emotions so effectively that they lack the language to express their pain. “When all of your body’s burning up,” goes the line that repeats throughout the song, and much like the object of her empathy (and anger at what’s come from such behavior), it eventually explodes into glorious release, the musical equivalent of driving down a freeway, screaming along in recognition of the feeling. It’s one hell of a pop song, brilliantly assembled and expressed. [Alex McLevy]

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