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

Megan Thee Stallion seizes control of her story: 5 new releases we love

Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion
Photo: Marcelo Cantu

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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Megan Thee Stallion, Good News

[300 Entertainment/1501 Certified]

Megan Thee Stallion’s meteoric rise continues with her debut album Good News, a scorching, 17-track confirmation of her immovable star power. It’s also a rollicking masterclass on controlling one’s own narrative. A certified mood maker, Megan exudes unshakable confidence and a determination to transcend the toxic, high-profile conflict between her and Tory Lanez by addressing it head-on in the fiery, aptly titled album opener, “Shots Fired.” She then immediately shifts the party into high gear with the anthemic “Circles,” a bouncing moment of closure that samples Jazmine Sullivan’s “Holding You Down (Goin’ In Circles).” After firmly declaring that “we ain’t going back and forth with these little boys,” Megan spends the remainder of the album resuming her Hot Girl agenda and flexing an improvement in her already stellar form. The album boasts a kaleidoscopic display of influences, from clever samples (Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya?”, Juvenile’s “Rodeo”) to new styles, like the reggae-laced bop of “Intercourse.” With renewed swagger and a slate of pitch-perfect collaborations (City Girls, SZA, Big Sean, and Beyoncé, just to name a few), the real good news is that this burgeoning icon isn’t just ready to step into her greatness—she already has. [Shannon Miller]

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Mamalarky, Mamalarky

[Fire Talk Records]

Though it opens with the familiar rattle of shambolic post-punk, the self-titled debut album from Mamalarky quickly reveals a headier and more ambitious array of influences and sounds. From the gauzy Laurel Canyon-esque vibes of “You Make Me Smile” to the dreamy torch-song weave of “Cosine” to stuttering art-damaged grooves like “Big Trouble” (reminiscent of a poppier Brainiac), the band sounds equally at home delivering dreamy ambles and jagged rock anthems with a warped edge. At times, the album feels like it teleported to the present from some drugged-out, circa 1975 meeting between neo-psychedelic pop musicians and Frank Zappa, but honestly, that’s for the best: The appeal of Mamalarky’s proggy retro jangle stays fresh thanks to that unpredictable infusion of energy. And holding it all together is Livvy Bennett’s cool, dreamy vocals, anchoring the proceedings with a gentle alto that conveys bite and beauty in equal measure. Song by song, the band creates an immensely likable indie swing that feels both comfortable and dissonant, often at the same time. [Alex McLevy]

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Phony Ppl, “On My Shit (feat. Joey Bada$$)

[300 Entertainment]

This year has mostly sucked, but thankfully we’ve had Phony Ppl around to bring the good vibes. The Brooklyn-based R&B collective kicked things off by dropping one of their biggest songs ever, “Fkn Around,” an irresistible ode to polyamory co-starring this week’s A-Sides headliner. One of their songs from 2015, the dreamy “Why iii Love The Moon.,” saw a huge resurgence thanks to its appearance in an Apple commercial. And like many of their peers struggling through the pandemic, Phony Ppl made the jump to quarantine livestreams, including an appearance in Rolling Stone’s In My Room series. To close out their triumphant 2020, they’ve teamed up with Joey Bada$$ for the vibrant, celebratory groove, “On My Shit.” The track, like “Fkn Around,” is in line with their stated ambitions for their upcoming album—“more uptempo and upscale energy—a little more movement and brighter colors.” But “On My Shit” sets itself apart in its swaggering declaration—after a huge year, Phony Ppl is done with modesty, and ready to bask in their success. [Baraka Kaseko]

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Popular Music, Popular Music Plays In Darkness

[Sanitarium Sound Services]

One of the year’s most inventive, hypnotic concept albums comes courtesy of Popular Music, a duo consisting of Parenthetical Girls alum Zac Pennington and Australian composer Prudence Rees-Lee. Armed with a string quartet and an analog synthesizer, the pair reverently reinterpret songs written specifically for film, their sumptuous compositions encompassing the likes of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” (from 1936’s Modern Times), The Kinks’ “The Way Love Used to Be” (from 1971’s Percy), and Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero” (from Footloose, duh). It’s a project perfectly suited for Pennington, whose tremulous vocals have always dripped with a cinematic longing. Rees-Lee’s moonlit arrangements, meanwhile, ripple with romance, regret, and, thanks to atmospheric overdubs from indie journeyman Jherek Bischoff, just the right note of menace. The duo describes the album as “an attempt to embody the very literal darkness of sitting silently in an unlit auditorium, alone together.” With theaters throughout the country closed for the foreseeable future, we gladly give ourselves over to it. [Randall Colburn]

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Benee, Hey u x

[Republic Records]

An unexpectedly breezy delight, the debut album from New Zealand’s Benee turns out to be one of the most appealing pop confections of the year. From the opening strains of “Happen To Me” which—no lie—sounds like a cross between latter-day Radiohead and Billie Eilish, the record proceeds to steamroll through styles and sounds from the past decade of Billboard hits. From Katy-Perry-gets-mellow bops like “Same Effect” to the pulsing, electronic, Ariana-echoing R&B of “Snail,” Benee masterfully delivers jam after jam, with a left-of-center edge and looseness that makes Hey u x feel more relatable and endearing than her hyper-stylized compatriots on the charts. A murderer’s row of guest stars keep the surprises coming (Lily Allen, Grimes, and Gus Dapperton, to name a few), while Benee’s clear, intimate vocals sell her honest and smartly constructed lyrical couplets. A few moments ebb with too-generic production and beats, but overall it’s a giddy, sugary delight. [Alex McLevy]

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Web Producer, The A.V. Club

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.

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