5 new releases we love: Steve Wonder releases his first new music in years, and more

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder
Photo: Dante Marshall

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.

[So What The Fuss Music, October 13]

Stevie Wonder has been promising new music for a long time—and now, he’s finally followed through, releasing two new singles as part of the announcement of his newly formed record label, So What The Fuss Music. Both tracks are well worth hearing, even if the oddness of hearing Busta Rhymes spit lines over a sunny Wonder melody remains jarring no matter how many times you hear it. The real standout is “Where Is Our Love Song,” a Gary Clark Jr.-aided slice of soulful beauty Wonder has apparently been working on since he was just 18 years old. The musician’s earnest, almost fey lyrics may feel out of place in the bleakness of this year (or the 21st century in general), but that’s what makes them so warm and winning. “Can’t Put It In The Hands Of Fate,” by contrast, weds a deeply funky bass line and ’70s-groove rhythm to some ferociously political verses from Rapsody, Cordae, Chika, and Busta Rhymes, with Wonder’s signature vocals joining the cry for justice. (“You say you believe all lives matter / I say, I don’t believe the fuck you do”). The contrast between the bright and uplifting beat and the intensity of the rhymes and message shouldn’t work, but it does. The old-school purity is heartening—as is having Stevie Wonder back. [Alex McLevy]

[SM Entertainment/Capitol Records, October 12]

The last time SM Entertainment’s entire NCT collective gathered for a singular project was in 2018 for Empathy, a serviceable patchwork LP composed of the best tracks from each subunit. While that came together as more of a showcase, RESONANCE Pt. 1 feels more like a flex as new soundscapes and daring collaborations yield sounds unlike anything the group has delivered before. Unlike its 2018 predecessor, RESONANCE Pt. 1 offers all-new music. Though the thumping, whistle-driven jam “Make A Wish” leads this 13-entry effort, its crown jewels are easily “Faded In My Last Song,” a haunting blend of hip-hop and R&B laced with a lilting piano, and “Misfit,” a ’90s-tinged exhibit of the collective’s promising rappers bolstered by a Beastie Boys-esque drum beat. “Dancing In The Rain” adds a lovely ribbon of upbeat jazz, and the simmering track “Nectar” adds a dash of C-pop—courtesy of WayV—to render this LP an international delight. RESONANCE Pt. 1 is ambitious, but it totally lives up to its name. [Shannon Miller]

[Saddle Creek, October 16]

There’s a rich sense of empathy that comes through in Sara Beth Tomberlin’s music, an impression of an artist reaching out to hold your hand as she sings directly to you. Despite the added presence of looping percussion and additional instrumentation (courtesy of producer Alex G), Tomberlin’s understated vocals and strumming guitars are still the main draw, her knack for haunting melodies and profound lyrical imagery running through this new EP like like an azure river through a forest. Even the swelling synths on Casiotone For The Painfully Alone cover “Natural Light” feel organic, contributing to the overall beauty of what is still a stripped-down release from a musician who knows the value of minimalism. Still, the more ambitious elements work wonderfully; highlight “Wasted” makes the most of a simple kick and rim click, while the insistently pulsing bass of “Floor” drives the song forward. Though it’s over too soon, Projections is as fully realized as any full-length release, a record that captures the sound of an artist lovingly (and relatably) evolving alongside her music. [Alex McLevy]

[Sub Pop, October 12]

Millennials don’t need any help being depressed—after all, we’re the generation that pioneered posting pseudo-ironic death wishes on social media. And with a B-side called “CRY” that begins with the lyrics, “hiding my depression from my housemates / I don’t know them well enough to cry in the kitchen,” Julia Jacklin’s new single, “to Perth, before the border closes,” provides the perfect soundtrack for pandemic-era crying jags. Both the A song and its B-side are informed by isolation and uncertainty; the title is a reference to Jacklin’s rush to get home when her tour was cut short by Australia’s quarantine lockdown. That song has a stripped-down vulnerability similar to Jacklin’s 2019 album Crushing; “CRY” has a dreamier, retro-inspired shimmer, paired with the dry, brittle lyrics and sweet vocals that have become Jacklin’s signature. Jacklin cites Dolly Parton as the inspiration for “CRY,” but there’s a distinct ’60s girl-group influence as well, particularly in Jacklin’s spoken-word interlude about offering to do the dishes so she can get some alone time. If the Shangri-Las had Instagram accounts and a self-deprecating sense of humor, it might sound a lot like this. [Katie Rife]

[Liberation Records, October 16]

We may not be able to follow the advice of merci, mercy on the opening track of her new release—the soulfully articulated exhortation, “Fuck it, I’m going out”—at the moment, but that doesn’t mean her debut EP isn’t a party in and of itself. Yes, it’s full of the kind of youthful angst and ennui that is universally recognizable, from the frustrated lament of “Fucked Myself Up” to the outraged hurt of “The Very Very End,” but it’s all paired to such thick, undulating beats and saucy vocals that even the darkest moments have an edge of rueful celebration to them, a push and pull between darkness and light that makes for a marvelously effervescent collection of electro-pop nuggets. This is never more apparent than on “Fall Apart,” with its combination of Lorde-like swoon and “Bittersweet Symphony”-level refrain of “Why would we start, when I know we’re gonna fall apart?” The answer is simple: Because when it sounds this good, committing to merci, mercy is worth it. [Alex McLevy]

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