This week at Paste Music we continued our look back at 2017 with our rankings of the 20 best new artists of the year, the 10 best boxed sets and the 40 best album covers. But we also kept our eye on what was new. Alexander released a lovely new record, and Future Islands and Vintage Trouble each unveiled new songs. Paste Studio hosted stellar performances by Grammy-nominated PJ Morton and Tony-winner Michael Cerveris, plus soul upstarts The Shacks (pictured above), and the first-ever U.S. performance by Superorganism. Catch up with Paste’s favorite albums, songs, live performances and feature stories of the past week.
The Fall: Singles: 1978-2016
The discography of infamous English post-punk outfit The Fall is a legendarily unwieldy thing. A cursory glance at the multiple versions of the group’s studio albums, live releases, singles and semi-official bootlegs released on a laundry list of different record labels is vertigo-inducing. Unless you have the hours and bank account to commit to parsing it all out, having some kind of road map or throughline is a necessity when approaching their work. This collection of the many, many singles that the Fall has produced since 1978 is likely the best chance you have. —Robert Ham
Over the last two years and through a variety of short-run cassette releases, guitarist David Shapiro—always recording under the name Alexander—has explored several moods and sounds. 2016’s Norton St. was filled with small conflagrations of Bill Orcutt-style mania, a fight for dominance over the detuned agony of his instrument. Celeste Arias, released two years ago, was far more spacious and melodic with his finger-picked acoustic work feeling welcoming and charmingly diffuse. For his first full-length album, Shapiro leans more toward the latter approach with nine songs of varying lengths and moods that cohere around the tones of his acoustic guitar and a breadth of scope that evokes the proud tradition of American Primitive music. —Robert Ham
Belle & Sebastian: How To Solve Our Human Problems Part 1
In 1996, these Scottish indie-pop icons band released not one but two albums—Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister—that are either perfect or darn close. Two years later came The Boy With the Arab Strap, a third straight LP packed with gentle jangle-pop, whispered melodies, lovely melancholy and clever, character-driven lyrics. In between Sinister and Arab Strap, Belle & Sebastian put out three four-song EPs—Dog on Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light. The tracks on these EPs were not gathered from the cutting-room floor; they were every bit as strong as those found on the aforementioned albums. Compile them into one 12-track set and you probably have Belle & Sebastian’s second-best album. —Ben Salmon
Future Islands: ‘Beauty of the Road’
Even if you can’t get behind the Baltimore band’s take on synthpop or Sam Herring’s signature dance moves, you have to respect the work ethic of these guys. They are a relentless touring act that leave it all up on the stage. Check out this new clip for the appropriately named “Beauty of the Road,” which captures the group in all their sweaty glory in various venues. Take a moment to admire their on stage joie de vivre and the pure joy they exhibit through each moment of this video. And then, if you’re one of our European readers, consider seeing Future Islands live when they hit your shores next summer.
Vintage Trouble: ‘Santa Why’
Vintage Trouble are here to focus your hearts on the most important aspect of the season: giving. Via Paste they shared “Santa Why,” which calls out to ol’ St. Nick through soulful vocals and a steady reggae-inspired beat, asking him, “Why give more to the rich than to the poor?” Frontman Ty Taylor shared a video to talk about the origins of the song, explaining that he came across a billboard in Los Angeles that read, “Why does Santa give more to the rich kids than to the poor kids?” The sign evoked rumination from the singer on issues of inequality and class. “And I thought that as a child, you must wonder, no matter how good you are in school, no matter how good you are to other people, someone is always going to come to school on Monday with more toys than you.” —Lisa Nguyen
Brigid Mae Power: ‘Don’t Shut Me Up (Politely)’
The first song released from Brigid Mae Power’s forthcoming album The Two Worlds (out on Feb 9 via Tompkins Square Records) is the perfect anthem for our times. The ashen folk ramble is a reflection of the voices of far too many women who have been silenced by powerful men. The lyrics are direct, even if they aren’t directed at any one person. It’s the sad tenor of the times when she sings, “You would try to convince me that I was somebody, somebody that I’m definitely not.” —Robert Ham
This young future-pop collective is based in London but features members from around the globe. Their debut single, “Something for Your M.I.N.D.,” is a gleeful mashup of guitar, samples, synths, and…apples. For their live debut in America, they stripped down but kept the apples.
Shannon Wise and Max Shrager of The Shacks were born in the late ‘90s, but their misty blend of psychedelic soul is rooted in a deep knowledge of R&B going back decades. Shrager has spent years immersed in the world of Daptone Records, while Wise’s whispery vocals evoke Mazzy Star and Brigitte Bardot. If “This Strange Effect” sounds familiar, you may know it from that iPhone ad.
Two-time Tony Award winner and The Tick villain Michael Cerveris brought his country outfit to the studio on Tuesday for some holiday blues from on a new album, Seasonal Effective Disorder. A day later, one of his nemeses from The Tick, Brendan Hines (who plays Superion on the show) played songs from his own new solo album, Qualms. Watch that session here.
The Maroon 5 keyboardist and go-to musical director for Solange is currently nominated for two Grammys for his most recent solo album, Gumbo. The New Orleans native visited Paste on Wednesday to play three songs, including “First Began,” which is up for Best R&B Song.
The Problem With Ranking Music in 2017
It’s December, and for music critics that means filling out polls and 10-best lists. It’s a time-consuming exercise, but it’s a fun game—and often enlightening. In 2017, though, is a list of the best albums the best way to measure a year’s worth of music? Except for the Taylor Swifts and Jay Zs of the world, musicians no longer make much money from recordings. For most artists, albums are just a promotional tool to drum up business for their only remaining income stream: live performances. So here’s a look at some of the best live bands of the year, and why that pretty much makes them the Bands of the Year. —Geoffrey Himes
Listen to One of the Last Performances By Black Sabbath’s Original Lineup
By 1976, English metal demigods Black Sabbath had conquered the mortal Earth. All six of their studio albums had cracked the Top 10 on the UK charts; hits like “Paranoid,” “War Pigs” and “Iron Man” hadn’t just galvanized rock radio, they had charted a new course for hard rock music that many still follow. But there was trouble in hell. After the band put out Technical Ecstasy in 1976, Ozzy Osbourne was committed to an asylum. A year later he’d quit the band, but not before the original lineup of Osbourse, guitarist Tommy Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward embarked on one last tour. On Dec. 12, 1976, Black Sabbath rolled into the appropriately named War Memorial Arena in Syracuse, N.Y. Listen, via the Paste Vault, to one the last shows the original lineup ever played. —Matthew Oshinsky
The 40 Best Album Covers of 2017
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, it’s also worth approximately 12 songs. As music took on a more political tone in 2017, so did the cover art that accompanied it, from vivid depictions of strong, uncompromising women and minorities to satirical takes on Western life, violent culture, and the American president. As with our Best Albums of 2017, though, we found comfort this year in the artistic balance between the thoughtful and the playful, with some of our favorite artists opting to go straight for belly laughs or aesthetic bliss. —Matthew Oshinsky