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.
In a quarter of the time it took for the Avalanches to follow up their game-changing Since I Left You with 2016’s Wildflower, the Aussie alchemists have returned with 25 ecstatic new tracks and one of the most impressive guest rosters ever assembled. Blood Orange, Denzel Curry, Rivers Cuomo, Kurt Vile, and Perry Farrell contribute vocals and lyrics, as do the storied likes of Jamie xx, Tricky, Johnny Marr, Karen O, and more. Inspired by nothing too grand—just the very cosmos itself—these songs sparkle with retro synths, static crackles, and 8-bit lasers, their woozy, romantic refrains evoking moonlit raves and stoned bouts of stargazing. Like its predecessor, We Will Always Love You is more of a proper pop album than a Since I Left You-style collage, though listen close and you’ll still hear Dev Hynes’ voice intertwining with Smokey Robinson or Burt Bacharach tangling with MGMT. “Running Red Lights,” the song’s sunniest single, even nods to the late David Berman, whose voice resounded throughout Wildflower. [Randall Colburn]
As anyone who’s ever found themselves enraptured at Stuart Murdoch’s side while he vamps through an eight-minute version of “The Boy With The Arab Strap” can attest, Belle & Sebastian have come a long way from the “chaotic and unsuccessful” days of its early concerts. That evolution into lively, limber onstage entertainers is the feature presentation of What To Look For In Summer, a double album documenting various club, festival, and cruise dates from 2019. It sounds fantastic, crisp and pristine and with all the chamber-pop lushness and session-player precision “If You’re Feeling Sinister” and “Dirty Dream Number Two” once only played at on disc. That extends to some of the lowest ebbs in the band’s discography, too: If you think “essential Belle & Sebastian live album” sounds like an oxymoron, you won’t believe the way it makes you reconsider every Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant track on the set list. [Erik Adams]
[Grand Jury Music]
With an effervescent lightness that belies the emotional tumult of the lyrics, the sophomore LP (really a combination of her two EPs from earlier this year, Something To Say and To You) from pop musician Jordana is a classic pairing of heavy themes and breezy instrumentation. There’s more than a hint of old-school coffeehouse jazz-pop in the organic grooves that make up the majority of the record, albeit fused to very modern electronic beats and even the odd distorted riff, as on the mid-’90s electro-pop of “Big.” But Jordana’s strengths reside in pulling back, letting her often cleverly restrained vocal melodies and delivery pull the listener closer, the better to deliver barbed confessions on songs like “I’ll Take It Boring” and “F___ You.” The gentle guitar licks evoke everything from Cornershop to Laura Marling, but the fizzy bounce of the rhythm keeps the head nodding, even when Jordana aims straight for the heart. [Alex McLevy]
Following up her ambitious debut album Miss Universe, London-born musician Nilüfer Yanya’s new three-song EP is smaller, but feels no less expansive. Yanya’s got a lot on her mind, especially at the tail-end of a year that stripped away many of the constants in the life of a touring musician, and Feeling Lucky? reckons with the overwhelming disillusionment of 2020. Pleading, “If you ask me one more question, I’m about to crash,” in opener “Crash,” there’s a sense that it’s all too much to bear as Yanya’s soft vocals tumble downward over a fuzzy, walloping bass. But the track is a pop-rock miracle, putting its disparate elements in conversation with one another to achieve a sort of infectious, chaotic bliss. There’s a similar raw but confident energy to “Same Damn Luck” and “Day 7.5093,” with each new turn of phrase, each twinkle of synths seemingly driven by pure instinct. Luckily, Nilüfer Yanya’s got great instincts. [Cameron Scheetz]
Dog Trainer, “2019”
The last thing anyone needs right now is another reminder of just how much 2020 sucked. And honestly, the first line of indie outfit Dog Trainer’s “2019” (which is the ever-relatable groan, “Fuck, I forgot my mask, gotta go back”) gives the brief impression that this song will be just that: a retread of what we already know. But stick around, because gentle guitar strums pave the way to an inarguable truth: For some of us, the year before wasn’t all that great either. A sunny production, complete with the catchiest of choruses, prevents the overall message from becoming too much of a downer. In fact, the softly rocking jam sesh feels almost communal, like sing-along fuel for a crowded bar with your good friends. While you may not want to necessarily commemorate the year, “2019” is a reassuring token of our resilience. [Shannon Miller]