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

Olivia Rodrigo’s new single is even better than her first: 5 new releases we love

Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo
Photo: Stefan Kohli

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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Olivia Rodrigo, “Deja Vu

[Geffen]

Olivia Rodrigo’s music career seemed to come out of nowhere in 2020. Sure, she’s the star of a Disney+ show, but it’s very niche. You’d be hard-pressed to find a decent number of people aged out of their teens who were Rodrigo fans before “Drivers License.” In case anyone thought the massive success of that song was a fluke, you can rest assured that Rodrigo has more pop hits up her sleeve. Her latest single, “Deja Vu,” continues a similar theme as in “Drivers License.” She’s still hung up on her breakup, wondering if her ex is introducing his new girlfriend to Billy Joel’s music when she was the one who showed him the wonders of “Uptown Girl.” While “Drivers License” sounded like a boring version of a Lorde hit, “Deja Vu” is a stunning, twinkly track that feels like a marriage between Taylor Swift and OK Computer-era Radiohead. We could get used to Rodrigo’s reign as the pop star of the moment. This is a promising glimpse of what’s to come in her forthcoming debut album, *O*R. [Tatiana Tenreyro]

Kishi Bashi, Emigrant

[Joyful Noise]

The gently plucked banjo that begins “Cascades,” the first track off Kishi Bashi’s Emigrant EP, may lull listeners into a false sense of complacency, thinking they’re listening to a genteel indie Mumford & Sons. But the Western influences keep going further and further back, with the multi-instrumentalist playing his signature violin like an old-time fiddle (influenced by ’60s and ’70s Japanese bluegrass), and the bleakness starts to creep in: “Sunny days are behind us now… winter’s coming,” he sings on “Wait For Springtime,” before segueing into a spare and mournful cover of Regina Spektor’s “Laughing With,” an admission that dark days are already here. (It’s an inspired pairing with the EP’s other cover, a lush country performance of Dolly Parton’s “Early Morning Breeze.”) But this companion piece to 2019’s Omoiyari (and its attendant upcoming song-film about Japanese internment during WWII) culminates with artfully arranged paeans to resilience, finding beauty in the expanse of the Western landscape and the small moments of joy that balance out our ongoing struggles, a connection between past and present that symbolizes the perpetual bulwark against pain. [Alex McLevy]

Tomahawk, Tonic Immobility

[Ipecac Recordings]

Mike Patton’s indie supergroup is almost old enough to drink, with its eponymous debut album 20 years old this year. Yet Tonic Immobility suggests the band is still in the realm of the creative zenith it found with 2013’s Oddfellows, a superb mix of jagged hard rock, angular blues-punk, and spaghetti Western-esque soundscapes of ominous noise. The songs on this latest release are expertly crafted nuggets of tightly coiled tension, periodically released in a wash of Duane Denison’s squealing guitar and Patton’s sing-shout proclamations. “Predators And Scavengers” is an explosive storm of a song, as ferocious as anything the band has ever done, while tunes like “Doomsday Fatigue” and “Fatback” summon up the archetypal Tomahawk sound, slowly paced but slyly suggestive and full of Patton’s signature lyrical incisiveness. But there are also the odd moments of surprising beauty, in the gentle opening of “Sidewinder” and the bridge of “Dog Eat Dog.” It may be a trite phrase, but here it’s earned: This album kicks ass. [Alex McLevy]

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Robert Finley, “Country Boy

[Easy Eye Sound]

Some musicians have voices so distinctive and compelling, they can’t be ignored. Robert Finley’s story is already unique enough—making his debut album at the age of 63, losing his sight, and joining up with Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach to produce his breakthrough success, 2017’s Goin’ Platinum. But it’s his magnetic, soulful croon that makes him great: A voice that slides into falsetto with the grainy peal of a true country-blues talent, it’s an instrument capable of conjuring weariness and warmth, longing and pain, love and loss in equal measure. And on new single “Country Boy,” it’s put to perfect use, a Southern soul groove that tells his story with stately grace, but never loses the slinky funk that pierces through the rambling sonic arrangements. It’s damn seductive, like Bill Withers meets Bobby Womack—with just a hint of Joni Mitchell—and it nails its countrified ennui with ease. [Alex McLevy]

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Major Murphy, Access

[Winspear]

Fans of Grandaddy, Wilco, and other purveyors of fuzzed-out and genre-hopping Americana, take note: Major Murphy’s sophomore album, Access, is a major achievement, a record that takes the scrappy, distorted sounds of indie rock and fuses them with a wide-ranging and instantly addictive blend of styles and songcraft. United by the through-line of catchy and immediate vocal harmonies from guitarist Jacob Bullard and bassist Jacki Warren (conjuring memories of the best of Imperial Teen, Versus, and more), there’s a restless spirit to the album, every other song exploring different avenuesfrom the disco-soul rhythms of “Attention” to the Big Star-meets-Pink Floyd vibes of “Unfazed” to the languid balladry of “Rainbow,” which sounds like nothing so much as Smashing Pumpkins’ “Rhinocerous” getting extremely high and joining a drum circle. It’s a welcome throwback to the kind of cohesive singer-songwriter pop musicianship that is all too rare these days—or at least rarely done this well. [Alex McLevy]

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