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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Carpenter brings the darkness and H.E.R. delivers a soul manifesto: 5 new releases we love

John Carpenter (Photo: Sophie Gransard) and H.E.R. (Screenshot: YouTube)
John Carpenter (Photo: Sophie Gransard) and H.E.R. (Screenshot: YouTube)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

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.

You can check out our Crosstalk about the new Foo Fighters album, Medicine For Midnight, as well.


H.E.R., “Fight For You (From The Original Motion Picture Judas And The Black Messiah)

[Atlantic Records]

Judging from not one, but two of our film critics, it sounds like Judas And The Black Messiah is one hell of a movie—and now, it has the appropriately excellent theme song to accompany it. The fingerprints of Marvin Gaye and early ’70s soul are all over this track, as H.E.R. has crafted a song that pays tribute to the struggles of the era while updating them (along with the musical vibe) for a contemporary world in which the same sentiments are still far too painfully relevant. “Their guns don’t play fair,” she sings at one point, and roiling beneath that line is a whole world of frustrations and pain, as the gently mournful vocal melody meets the heavy groove of the bass and eruptions of synths and choral-like harmonies, uplifting the entire track. The song has already been nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes, and unlike a number of other nominees, this one is wholly deserved. [Alex McLevy]

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John Carpenter, Lost Themes 3: Alive After Death

[Sacred Bones]

It’s been said before on this site, but there’s such a thing as the Curse Of Being Very Good: When an artist delivers so consistently, and in such like-minded manner, time and again, that it starts to be all too easy to take it for granted. Even the name of John Carpenter’s latest, Lost Themes 3, lets you know this is a “more of the same” situation, but that “same” is so artfully assembled, and performed in such compelling manner, that writing it off as just an extension of the first two records would be a mistake. From the free-floating, ambient washes of “Dripping Blood” to the Gothic organ chords of “Vampire’s Touch” to the Angelo Badalamenti-like uplift of “Turning The Bones,” Alive After Death continues to expand the sonic palette of the trio while nonetheless hewing to the pioneering synthwave instrumental sound that has gone on to inspire thousands of imitators. The number of recent film and TV scores that should be paying Carpenter royalties is staggering. [Alex McLevy]

The Weather Station, Ignorance

[Fat Possum]

The looming threat of environmental catastrophe sparks very different responses in people; for The Weather Station’s Tamara Lindeman, it spurred the creative inspiration for her best album yet. But Ignorance is no sabre-rattling protest record—rather, it’s a deeply felt series of internal reflections, a musical document of human connections (and the fumbling, failing attempts at it) made in the face of such tragedy. Lindeman has radically fleshed out her band’s sound, the better to match such colossal themes: Writing on piano instead of guitar, the formerly folksy musician has transformed her previous Joni Mitchell-esque sparseness into a thrumming series of tension-and-release masterpieces. An insistently pulsing rhythm section drives much of the new material, from the jazzy, late-period Radiohead bleakness of opener “Robber” to the downright poppy warmth that plays sunny counterpoint to the dark lyricism in “Tried To Tell You.” The piano-driven beauty of album highlight “Trust” even adopts Tori Amos-like mystery, as the record builds to a crescendo, then ends on a note of hope—one that underlies the entire project, making an already-great record that much more of a cleansing spiritual exorcism. [Alex McLevy]

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VanJess, Homegrown EP

[RCA Records]

Nigerian-American R&B duoVanJess might be the personification of the phrase “cool, calm, and collected,” as evidenced by their latest EP, Homegrown. Sultry and smooth, the nine-track collection settles into an easy groove—aided largely by a tease of a lead track, “Come Over”—before it crackles with the unmitigated funk that makes Phony Ppl collaboration “Caught Up” such a thumping jaunt. VanJess’ buttery vocals float with confidence and a sense of impassioned, grown-up longing that sets classic R&B apart from today’s more confounding masses. The women have landed some stellar featured artists to help elevate a few of the tracks, like Devin Morrison with his wholesome crooning on “Boo Thang,” or KAYTRANADA and his house-spun touch on “DYSFUNCTIONAL.” But in reality, any artist lucky enough to get invited to a VanJess party is automatically tasked with keeping in step with the abundantly sexy charisma that the burgeoning act has long set forth. [Shannon Miller]

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Future Teens, “Guest Room

[Take This To Heart Records]

Future Teens enjoyed a spell of virality last year with their doe-eyed cover of Smash Mouth’s “All Star”; now Boston’s premier emo-pop superstars have returned with “Guest Room,” the first single from their upcoming Deliberately Alive EP. “Guest Room” is, like so much of their music, as earnest as it is infectious, with vocalist Amy Hoffman belting out the existential questions that afflict the average twentysomething with a perfect mix of eagerness and insecurity. “Not sure which one I fear worse: growing up or getting old,” they sing against a rising tide of drums and guitar, the likes of which will no doubt set the pit roiling when we’re all able to commiserate in public again. [Randall Colburn]

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