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.
[Yellowelectric, February 8]
Grouper’s Liz Harris follows 2018’s Grid Of Points with not only a new album, but a new name. As Nivhek, Harris developed this dual-pronged release as part of an audiovisual installation with visual artist Marcel Weber, and though it bears the same spectral, spongy hallmarks of her work as Grouper, it’s riddled with spells of fierce, sometimes evaporative dissonance, moments that shatter the near-silence so aggressively that they can feel like a dream upon disappearing. The album’s first half, “After Its Own Death,” hits harder than its backend, “Walking In A Spiral Towards The House,” which is more of a shuffle than a journey. “After Its Own Death,” on the other hand, pulses and mutates with the help of Mellotron, bells, gongs, and even Harris’ vocals, which kick off the album on a celestial note before drowning in thick, molten noise. Enter at your own risk. [Randall Colburn]
Y La Bamba, Mujeres
[Tender Loving Empire, February 8]
On Y La Bamba’s new album, Mujeres, mastermind Luz Elena Mendoza’s voice rises and falls with the ease and uncontainable power of fresh water rushing over smooth rocks. Though this is Y La Bamba’s fifth full-length, it is the first that she has led production on. And with expansive, layered vocals and a warm, vintage sound, the result is a shimmering refuge of astute sentimentality and self-discovery. “You have the right to feel / Let’s feel what we know / But make sure that we keep on moving on / Show me a reason,” she sings on opener “My Death.” Flitting between English and Spanish, Mendoza celebrates the ecstasy, pain, and empowerment that come along with realizing one’s identity both alone (“I am that salt that holds my sight shut until the next dream,” she says on the spoken-word interlude “Santa Sal”) and in community (“Last night / I thought of you / But I can’t deny my mind has already wandered off,” goes “Cuatro Crazy.”) Despite the range of emotion this album explores, Mujeres never strays far from a core spirit of joy. Endless searching, it seems to suggest, is something to embrace and celebrate. Lost in the album’s misty self-assuredness, I couldn’t help but be convinced. [Ann-Derrick Gaillot]
[Video released February 14]
“D.I.Y.” originally appeared on last fall’s Muthaz Day 3, one of five excellent EPs released by Chattanooga rapper BbyMutha in 2018. But yesterday she dropped the video for the song, and it’s such a glorious celebration and summation of her swaggering, off-kilter Southern rap that it’ll be worth hitting “replay” on for a while. In the song, BbyMutha, née Brittnee Moore, revels in the invincibility she feels against anything threatening her art, her authenticity, and her people: “If rich gon’ make me sell out like a bitch / Then I don’t want it / If lit gon’ drive me crazy / Fuck it, baby / I don’t want it,” goes the effervescent chorus, gliding across Rock Floyd’s massive trap beat. In the video, Moore delivers the lines surrounded by her kids, either sitting in bed while one of them plays on the iPad or dancing in the parking lot of the local Beauty Zone. It’s easy to believe every word she says; it’s clear this woman only lives and creates on her own terms. [Kelsey J. Waite]
We’re collecting our A-Sides recommendations over on a Spotify playlist updated every Friday. Tune in and subscribe to the 2019 list here.
[Light In The Attic, February 15]
It’s not often that one can credit capitalism with a creative renaissance, but such was the case in Japan in the 1980s, when a financial boom led those in power to invest in art and music. A slew of artists, including Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono and Studio Ghibli’s Joe Hisaishi, were given oodles of cash to create immersive soundscapes designed to amplify the consumer experience. With Kankyō Ongaku, a new compilation from Light In The Attic, the ambient and incidental music that was born of this era has been licensed and packaged together for the first time outside of Japan. It’s beautiful stuff, too, ranging from spritely and playful to stately and atmospheric. Yoichiro Yoshikawa’s “Nube,” for example, is all texture, pairing starry synth swells with a hoarse, persistent rumble. The rhythmic buoyancy of Yoshiaki Ochi’s “Ear Dreamin’” and the crystalline chimes of Toshifumi Hinata’s “Chaconne,” meanwhile, would sound right at home underscoring the dungeons of any JRPG. Even as the songs drift between moody, Eno-inspired ambience, sparkling mischievousness, and pastoral wonder, they remain reliably soothing and always transportive. [Randall Colburn]
Andrew Bird, “Sisyphus”
[Loma Vista, January 30]
That sound you hear is my ineffective whistling, brought on as ever by the release of a new Andrew Bird song. “Sisyphus,” off the cheekily titled My Finest Work Yet, due out March 22, features as big a sound as any Bird has ever produced, cymbals and tom-toms cresting before the first line is delivered. The beguiling new track reworks the Greek myth, restoring some agency to the condemned Greek king; having pushed the boulder to the top of the hill, he decides to “Let it roll / Let it crash down low.” His echoing vocals are almost cavernous—expansive, so as to hold our collective anger and optimism. Bird has called My Finest Work Yet his most overtly political album, but it doesn’t sound like we’re in for some erudite takedowns of neo-Nazis: In an interview with KCRW’s Madeleine Brand, he said he’s mostly looking to start a conversation, one that presumably includes a lot of (regular) whistling. [Danette Chavez]