5 new releases we love: Westside Gunn’s victory party, Dolly Parton’s holiday, and more

Westside Gunn

Westside Gunn
Photo: Setor Tsikudo

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.

[Shady Records, October 2]

Surprising no one who has followed the rapper’s career, Who Made The Sunshine—Westside Gunn’s much-delayed studio debut for Shady Records—is very much worth the wait. The Buffalo-based artist has been dominating 2020 (this is his third full-length release of the year), and Sunshine is the sound of a victory party, as much a platform for his many collaborators as for himself. (Along with his whole Griselda crew, we get appearances from Black Thought, Slick Rick, Busta Rhymes, Jadakiss, and more.) To be sure, there’s the expected assemblage of grimy loops and loping, old-school beats largely courtesy of Daringer and Beat Butcha, but it’s the odd, ethereal wind of Conductor William’s groove on the eight-minute “Frank Murphy” or the twinkling chimes of “Big Basha’s” that stand out, sounds that give Gunn and his many guest emcees the chance to do something a little more unusual. And let’s be honest: Westside Gunn is at his best when he’s being a little unusual. [Alex McLevy]

[12 Tone Music, October 2]

The country-music legend has released holiday albums before, but we can’t think of a winter season more in need of some Dolly Parton than Christmas 2020. A Holly Dolly Christmas has its highs and lows: The latter includes standards we’ve already heard far too often, and Dolly’s version of “Holly Jolly Christmas” is not about to make anyone forget Burl Ives. But Holly Dolly’s true strengths come from country carols not yet pummeled into our collective consciousness, like a sweet, twangy duet with Willie Nelson (“Pretty Paper”) and the downright boisterous “Christmas On The Square,” which will place you right in Dolly’s Tennessee home of Pigeon Forge. “Cuddle Up, Cozy Down Christmas,” her duet with current holiday king Michael Bublé, offers a welcome consensual take on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Dolly’s duet with Jimmy Fallon on “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is more appealing than that sounds, as the two disparate voices blend for some impressive harmonies (if you can get over her calling Fallon “sexy”). But Parton’s best take here is her absolutely moving version of “Mary, Did You Know?”, her impressive vocals still able to reach spiritual heights. [Gwen Ihnat]

[Dangerbird Records, October 2]

Going to a live music venue isn’t the best idea right now—and live albums often aren’t as good as the real thing or the studio album—but there’s some magic captured in this decade-old recording that is being released for the first time. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of their first album, Pickin’ Up The Pieces, Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs, and their Tantrums have made available 17 songs recorded in 2011 at the Metro in Chicago. Footage of the band performing 10 of the tracks—originally broadcast nine years ago on Palladia Network (now MTV Live)—is also available, part of a campaign to help the Metro and similar venues counteract the economic impact of the COVID-19 shutdown. A lot of kudos goes to the sound technicians and mixers who worked on this project and blended Fizpatrick and Scaggs vocals over the delightfully brass-heavy orchestrations in a way that celebrates every element of what could have easily become a cacophony. [Patrick Gomez]

[Self-released, October 2]

Seven albums into his young career, it’s easy to see why Shamir’s latest is self-titled. For fans who have followed his work since the Northtown days, Shamir is the triumphant mark of an artist who’s come into his own, a pop star on his own terms. And for the newcomers, Shamir is a thrilling introduction, encompassing the best of where his genre-defying discography’s been while also looking forward. (Shamir himself calls it his “most accessible” work since his debut.) Kicking off with power-pop gem “On My Own,” the record immediately draws you in with a guitar riff like a ’90s daydream. The track sets the tone for a sparkling, resilient album that processes pain and trauma to celebrate the act of pushing through. Shamir remains vulnerable and open-hearted, but feels more confident than ever, freeing him to experiment with countrified odes to Unsolved Mysteries (“Other Side”) and surf-pop reflections on failed relationships (“Pretty When I’m Sad”). And in his stunning album closer, “In This Hole,” Shamir lets his gorgeous countertenor crack and stretch over otherworldly strings. [Cameron Scheetz]

[88Rising, September 25]

It feels a little odd to call Joji’s second studio album, Nectar, brilliant escapism. For one, the emotive lyricism that largely powers this collection floats between heartbreak and the stunning vulnerability that underlined his debut LP, BALLADS 1. But the singer-songwriter’s ability to blend lo-fi trip-hop and R&B with the occasional buzz of EDM manages to turn even the most gutting of tracks into a dreamy voyage. More importantly, Nectar showcases Joji’s tremendous growth as a vocalist and his evolving sensibilities. “Run,” a slow burn of a song fueled by wailing electric guitar, takes flight with both his strong, raspy vocals and his lilting falsetto. Another resonant entry, “777,” is a patchwork of ’80s dream-pop and percolating R&B that mimics the carefree intent of a no-strings relationship. Nectar can certainly boast of a few great collaborations from the likes of Lil Yachty and BENEE—and it should boast, as “Pretty Boy” and “Afterthought” both speak to the album’s malleability—but this is, above all else, the celebration of an artist who has grown up and grown into his ability to express himself so vividly. [Shannon Miller]

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