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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Zayn pops up, and a Bee Gee goes country: 5 new releases we love

Zayn Malick (Photo: Nabil) and Barry Gibb (Photo: Desiree Prieto)
Zayn Malick (Photo: Nabil) and Barry Gibb (Photo: Desiree Prieto)
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.

Zayn, Nobody Is Listening

[RCA Records]

Former One Directioner Zayn Malik may be continuing his concerted effort to distance himself from his boy band roots, but there’s still one trait he thankfully hasn’t left behind: His penchant for serious sentimentality. His debut album Mind Of Mine may have confirmed as much, but the 11 tracks of his third offering, Nobody Is Listening, really drive home Malik’s long-established, swoon-inducing persona. Second single “Vibez” maintains the proficiency with gauzy orchestration and laid-back vocals—the kind that exists in the convenient pocket between pop and R&B. However, this collection plays in the rhythmic sandbox to further expand his sound, exploring bluesy melodies that reflect a modern, lo-fi soundscape one moment (“Better”) and vintage, Phil Collins-esque vibes the next (“Sweat”). What makes this particular jaunt a real treat is when he abandons his understated vocal proclivities for a fuller, wholly vulnerable display like “River Road,” which concludes the LP with a guitar-driven lullaby that crackles with raw emotion. If you’re still not listening, then you’re truly missing out. [Shannon Miller]


Barry Gibb, Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol. 1

[Capitol Records]

If HBO’s surprisingly moving documentary How Can You Mend A Broken Heart has you jonesing for more Bee Gees music, Barry Gibb is here to provide with Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol. 1. The surviving Gibb brother recorded Songbook in Nashville’s historic RCA Studios, duetting with Music City’s brightest stars on the Bee Gees classic of their choosing. These collaborations are hit or miss, as tends to be the case with covers: Little Big Town only offers an elevator-music copy of “Lonely Days,” while Miranda Lambert and Jay Buchanan’s faint version of “Jive Talkin’” isn’t even in the same league as the vivacious original. The best tracks here offer revolutionary interpretations of established hits, like Alison Krauss’ angelic vocals taking “Too Much Heaven” to new heights, while Brandi Carlile’s achingly open delivery pushes “Run To Me” into a deeper level of emotionality. Best of all is “To Love Somebody”: The song was originally written for Otis Redding just before his death, and Buchanan’s soulful version with Gibb manages to offer a glimpse of what that inspired collaboration might have sounded like. (Fingers crossed that the implied Vol. 2 will include “Massachusetts.”) [Gwen Ihnat]

shame, Drunk Tank Pink

[Dead Oceans]

Fans of the riotous South London post-punk act shame may want to brace themselves for just how ambitious the group’s sound has gotten—a musical evolution that pushes its usual maximum-intensity ferocity into thrilling new territory. It’s most evident on tracks like “Human, For A Minute”—with its steady, Yo La Tengo-esque bassline and gentle groove, paired with Charlie Steen’s deeply heartfelt vocals—but new influences abound on the follow-up to the group’s debut, Songs Of Praise. That’s not to say shame has mellowed; from the frenetic and jagged squall of opener “Alphabet” to the “top this, Jesus Lizard” intensity of “Great Dog,” the saucily hectoring indictments of bourgeois life are plentiful. But there’s also spacey canyon rock, pummeling post-rock in a Trans Am vein, and the jam-rock experimentalism of album closer “Station Wagon”—as good a finale as the similarly searching “Angie” from Songs. “And like Atlas / I shall carry the weight of the sky on my shoulders” Steen proclaims in the album’s final minutes, and after such a rousing, compelling musical document of late-capitalist life as both tragedy and joke, you can believe it. [Alex McLevy]


Slaughter Beach, Dog, At The Moonbase

[Lame-O Records]

We’ve heard a lot of music recorded in lockdown over the past year, but the effects of isolation have rarely been so evident as they are on At The Moonbase, the fourth LP from the Philly indie rockers of Slaughter Beach, Dog. “Are you there?” Jake Ewald sings on its opener. “Do you feel insane?” he asks a few lines later. His imagination soars on the subsequent tracks, with neon-lit squeals of saxophone cutting through rowdy, piano-driven stompers about our tragically empty bars and diners and the colorful characters we used to see inside them. “A Modern Lay” is the LP’s crown jewel, a “humble escapade through the great American bedroom” that, in ways both funny and sad, plays to an imaginary audience of drunk revelers. Despite being recorded alone, At The Moonbase is easily Slaughter Beach, Dog’s most extroverted record, brighter and more ecstatic than its predecessors while still managing to preserve the offbeat intimacy of Ewald’s lyrical style. [Randall Colburn]


Midnight Sister, Painting The Roses


If ’60s-style orchestral pop is all about mood and texture, then imagine Midnight Sister’s sophomore album Painting The Roses as the sweet cloud of smoke hanging over the pleasantly faded heads of stragglers at the end of a party. The SoCal duo’s sophisticated, jazz-influenced rhythm section pairs with singer Juliana Giraffe’s husky vocals like tobacco and vanilla, lending songs such as the group’s most recent single, “Satellite,” a velvety late-night appeal. And even when Midnight Sister steps out into the daylight—like, say, the uplifting brass that supports “Foxes,” or the wistful singing saw on “Wednesday Baby”—Giraffe and bandmate Ari Balouzian maintain the mysterious Venetian-candle flicker that makes their retro songwriting stand out. To paraphrase the once and future king of the art-pop weirdos: Take a chance on this couple of kooks if you’re up for romancing. [Katie Rife]


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