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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.
Benny The Butcher & Harry Fraud, The Plugs I Met 2
[Black Soprano Family/SRFSCHL]
The latest album from Benny The Butcher doesn’t waste time. Nine tracks that clock in at under half an hour, The Plugs I Met 2 isn’t just a sequel to his superb 2019 release (recorded at the same time as last year’s critically acclaimed Burden Of Proof); it’s a combination of proud assertion of purpose and mea culpa for mistakes made, a warts-and-all examination of the difficulties facing someone who continually turned to the wrong side of the law despite an artistic calling. Unlike the Roc-A-Fella vibes that producer Hit-Boy brought to Burden, Harry Fraud’s ’70s art-film grooves return a sense of foggy, sample-heavy NYC boom-bap to the consistent through-line of Benny’s reflective flow, the Yeezy to Burden’s Hova. It feels like an album in the true sense of the word—a collection of chapters that craft a coherent whole, that begins with a boast only to slowly reveal a seething series of verses ruminating on the human cost of outsized ambition. There’s a solid roster of guests, from 2 Chainz to Rick Hyde, but the attention remains firmly fixed on Benny, his hard-earned life lessons erupting from every track. [Alex McLevy]
Justin Courtney Pierre, An Anthropologist On Mars
It’s challenging to find a frontperson from any band that became huge in the 2000s who has not only stuck to the same sound, but who also thrives at it without it feeling outdated. Motion City Soundtrack’s Justin Courtney Pierre manages to do just that with his latest solo EP. An Anthropologist On Mars sounds like classic Motion City Soundtrack and will appease both casual MCS fans and those who’ve been following his work for his entire career. Pierre still has an excellent, self-deprecating sense of humor in his lyrics and catchy choruses that you can easily imagine shouting along to at a show. Standout track “I Hate Myself” could be a long-lost MCS song, as Pierre sings, “Well, I hate myself just a little big more than I hate you / Let exhibit A shower you with proof / There is no justice in this world.” Meanwhile, “Promise Not To Change” is the ultimate pandemic anthem for those concerned over fraught friendships, as Pierre sings, “Can’t shake the thought you’d erase me / Maybe the distance has helped me understand / Lessons in conflict avoidance” and “Saddened by thе lack of touch / I promise not to change.” It’s the perfect comforting EP for the toughest times. [Tatiana Tenreyro]
Chase Cohl, Dear Dear Vol. 1
There’s nothing but pure retro sweetness on Chase Cohl’s latest EP, Dear Dear Vol. 1. That’s not surprising, considering the music was co-written by Barry Goldberg, the longtime musician and producer whose songs have been recorded by Gladys Knight and Gram Parsons, among others, and knows from the real thing. Still, it might surprise fans of her folk-heavy 2018 debut, Far Away And Gone: The four songs contained on Dear Dear are all different versions of ’60s girl-group beauty, the kind of thing that would slide in perfectly between The Shirelles and The Ronettes on an old-school jukebox. Cohl’s lyrics conjure up the innocence of a simpler time of love and loss, summoning an almost fey sensibility that nonetheless comes across as honest and heartfelt as their decades-older forbears. It may feel like stepping into a time capsule, but Cohl’s new EP captures what was great about that music, and pulls it into the present. [Alex McLevy]
Ethel Cain, “Crush”
Ethel Cain hasn’t become a big indie name yet, but based on her new release, it wouldn’t be surprising if she becomes the next huge singer-songwriter nobody can shut up about. Cain’s known for being a DIY goth who’s collaborated with SoundCloud emo artists like Lil Aaron (she also has a track with Wicca Phase Springs Eternal coming soon), but her latest single, “Crush,” is a sun-kissed pop song that’d be at home in a ’90s teen movie’s soundtrack. The pandemic has made many revert to having teenage-like feelings, exploring the intense, newfound emotions of the romantic idealization of unattainable strangers. What makes Cain’s “Crush” so great is her ability to capture that very specific adolescent regression, colored with gauzy, light instrumentation. Her vocals are reminiscent of early Lana Del Rey, with a similar biting edge as she romanticizes how “he looks like he works with his hands and smells like Marlboro reds.” [Tatiana Tenreyro]
Dessa, “Life On Land”
“Trying to get that universal feeling / In an invite-only private room.” So sings Dessa on “Life On Land,” in which the Minneapolis-based artist submits a musical testament to the feeling of being torn every which way but comfortable. It’s a dance-beat-inflected ballad, a stylistic combination that—much like the emotions it describes—straddles two worlds at once, at home and distant, intimate and lost at sea. That’s familiar lyrical territory for the restless singer and rapper, but it’s delivered in a package that is both recognizable and new: wedding slinky, modern R&B groove to a straight-up ’90s throwback of pop bombast, as though SZA accidentally wandered into a Natalie Imbruglia song, or Tori Amos was involved in some sort of The Fly-esque teleportation fusion with Aloe Blacc. This is the third single from her IDES series, which sees Dessa releasing a new track on the 15th of every month this year (following the soulfully anthemic “Bombs Away” and fire-spitting hip-hop of “Rome”), and the project seems to be inspiring her to explore new boundaries of artistry—a musical journey as rewarding for listeners as it seems to be for her. [Alex McLevy]