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 Spotify.
Vampire Weekend, “Harmony Hall”/“2021”
Nearly six years have passed since Modern Vampires Of The City, Vampire Weekend’s last full-length. Passage of time is a theme running through both new singles from the band’s upcoming album, newly revealed to be called Father Of The Bride. While “Harmony Hall” starts with light acoustic fingerpicking—a bit of a departure for the band—it quickly moves into familiar territory, evoking the lush, effortless sound on Modern Vampires standout “Ya Hey.” But “Harmony Hall” bridges the temporal distance between this album and the last with an echo from Modern Vampires’ “Finger Back,” slightly altering the stanza “I don’t want to live like this / But I don’t want to die.” “Die” is a staccato version of the drawn-out “die” on the last album, a jarring note in a familiar tune, putting the 6-year-old song in conversation with the new one. And while “Harmony Hall” looks back, “2021” looks forward, with frontman Ezra Koenig asking questions of what the listener will think about him in 2021. Both songs are a pleasant reintroduction, and signal a strong forthcoming album this spring. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
Better Oblivion Community Center, Better Oblivion Community Center
Conor Oberst was a welcome guest on Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger In The Alps, his rugged, emotive rasp adding a compelling texture to Bridgers’ ghostly vocals. But there’s a thicker thread connecting the two—both sing about the existential weight of heartache, their lyrics tumbling through gauzy recollections and the tangible artifacts of past relationships. This creative kinship is evident on their debut as Better Oblivion Community Center, an amiable, surprisingly nomadic release that allows the pair to flex their strengths and explore new terrain. Bridgers, for example, teases out Oberst’s innate tenderness on delicate tracks like “Chesapeake” and “Didn’t Know What I Was In For,” both of which find their voices gorgeously intertwining as they did on Alps’ “Would You Rather.” And Oberst ushers Bridgers into the dusty brand of folk-rock he’s been dishing out as a solo artist with tracks like “Dylan Thomas,” not to mention the glitchy, Digital Ash-era percussion of “Big Black Heart.” It lacks a unifying perspective, perhaps—the project’s parodic aesthetic sensibilities, for example, don’t really dovetail with the music—but the album’s exploratory nature pays off. [Randall Colburn]
Jenny Lewis, “Red Bull & Hennessy”
As a solo artist and as a member of Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis has been walking a line for two decades: Between the “baby, I’m bad news” warning shots of “Portions For Foxes” and the “let me be loved” pining of “More Adventurous,” between spiritual sounds and secular concerns, between L.A. glamor and Valley seediness. And on “Red Bull & Hennessy,” that blend gets a signature cocktail, one good for causing trouble deep into the night. “Red Bull & Hennessy” is making out while leaning against the jukebox; it’s snake-bit guitars and piano draped in a drama worthy of Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna. And it sounds incredible, a thumping rhythm section and infinite echo courtesy of Capitol Studios’ legendary Studio B. I’ve listened to “Red Bull & Hennessy” about a dozen times since Wednesday, and I still get the same roller-coaster-free-fall feeling in the pit of my stomach when the beat drops out in the second verse, followed by the chills every time Lewis hops into her upper register on the bridge. [Erik Adams]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe to the new 2019 list here.
William Tyler, Goes West
Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor first heard guitar wiz William Tyler’s new album while on a cleanse—“no alcohol, no drugs, no evil thoughts,” a statement reads—in Texas Hill Country. Goes West, Taylor says, “offered up a model for what I wanted my head to feel like.” Indeed, Tyler’s latest offering is remarkable in its clarity. At times, listening to the gentle and nuanced arrangements makes you feel like you just woke up to a fresh breeze on some bright, glorious vista. And aptly, the serenity is decidedly Western, earthy, like the kind of instrumentals that could score out-of-context shots from Paris, Texas. The dreamy plucking of “Fail Safe,” along with the song’s video of American landscapes and honky-tonk revelry, is all the intro you need. It’s the kind of record one might imagine the universe spins when you gain the perspective you needed. [Matt Williams]
Sneaks, Highway Hypnosis
“Oh my gosh, Highway Hypnosis is coming out on Merge Records!” squeals an excited voice at the start of Sneaks’ newest album. The enthusiasm is justified: Across Highway Hypnosis’ 13 songs and 29 minutes, Eva Moolchan advances her hyperactive but minimalist, swaggering but humor-filled pop. On “Saiditzoneza,” she employs only sparse drum machines and ghastly synthetic gasping as she endlessly repeats the track’s not-quite-a-real-word title. “Holy Cow Never Saw A Girl Like Her” is also named after its only lyric, which Moolchan airs with a rap-like cadence over just a chunky eighth-note bass riff. On “Ecstasy,” among the album’s handful of M.I.A.-esque turn-ups, Moolchan revels in slightly offbeat synths, drum-machine pitter-patter, and languid melodies as she sings about personal freedom. “Long live Sneaks,” she chants across this song’s outro, knowing Highway Hypnosis is bold enough to leave a lasting impression. [Max Freedman]