The winter seems to be easing its frigid grip on the East Coast, but we’re still warming ourselves here in New York with some of the best music we’ve heard in weeks. This week, we loved new albums by Shopping and Salad Boys, plus fresh singles from Lucy Dacus, Yo La Tengo, EELS and Starchild & The New Romantic. We hosted fantastic performances by Bahamas and Company of Thieves in our studio. And we talked to First Aid Kit (pictured above) about their new release, Ruins, ranked the best albums of 1968 with the benefit of 50 years’ of hindsight, and suggested some emerging female stars as heirs to Taylor Swift’s eroding throne. Catch up with Paste’s favorite albums, songs, performances and features of the past seven days.
Shopping: The Official Body
The London post-punk trio Shopping follows up 2015’s Why Choose with The Official Body, a play on words referencing institutional bodies of government as well as the limited selection of physical bodies that are deemed “acceptable” by the general society. It’s a fitting metaphor for a band whose stark, jagged, dance-punk sounds like a giant middle finger to the established order, and whose status as a band fronted by a queer woman of color is in itself a political stand. The 10 tracks here are audacious, funky, and have that element of outsider-cool leftover from the heyday of influences like Delta 5, Gang of Four and ESG. Opening cut “The Hype” is lean, danceable and hi-hat heavy, the funky-fresh bass line and stuttering guitar enough to get anyone in possession of a nervous system out on the floor. It’s a sensation that doesn’t really lift until the album’s over. —Madison Desler
Salad Boys: This Is Glue
Life has ways of letting you temporarily forget that it’s one big shit show, ultimately balancing things out to a bearable normality. The sophomore album from New Zealand outfit Salad Boys cushions the blow of frontman Joe Sampson’s less-than-cheery observations within fuzzed-out, lo-fi garage guitars, the sounds of jangling indie-pop circa 1987 and Sampson’s own calm-cool-collected vocals. The lo-fi production suits the mood, recalling the melancholy charm of indie acts like The Chills and The Bats. “Blown Up” kicks things off with Krautrock rhythm and an aggressive flurry of guitars, as Sampson laments the pressure to constantly “concentrate and utilize our time.” “I’m useless to to myself and doomed to follow/Someone else,” he sings on “Psych Slasher,” the punk energy and triumphant vocals turning all that angst into a good time. “Scenic Route To Nowhere” takes things in a Parquet Courts direction, the angular guitar lines emphasizing Sampson’s mention of “anxiety,” “choking” and “stumbling.” —Madison Desler
Wes Youssi and the County Champs: Down Low
If you’re of the opinion that country-crossover has crossed too far over, Wes Youssi and his Country Champs are with you. Fifteen seconds of songs like “I Ain’t a Quitter” or “Down Low”—a song about going to bar, putting a honky-tonk number on the juke and getting good and lost in your whiskey—are enough to wipe the words “Florida Georgia Line” from your consciousness. Working with a sonic palette of blue-sky lap steel, hearth-warm bass, and Youssi’s dulcet twang, Down Low brings you right back to the heart of the genre—the same sound that Youssi first heard through his grandmother’s records growing up among Illinois corn farms. Like dropping the needle on a classic LP from the ‘60s or ‘70s, Down LowMadison Desler
Starchild & The New Romantic: ‘Language’
If you were lucky enough to catch any dates on Solange’s last tour, you likely noticed the versatile Bryndon Cook behind her on lead guitar, keys and backup vocals. Cook is also the leader of Starchild & The New Romantic, and he’s ready to drop an album, Language, on Feb. 23. Paying homage to the classic sounds of New Jack Swing-era R&B and the modern soul of Blood Orange (whom Cook has also collaborated with), the album’s title track sees dizzying keys laid alongside a funkified beat and a rich vocal arrangement. The track is the second offering from Language, following the release of the ballad “Hangin On.” —Arian Spinelli
Lucy Dacus: ‘Addictions’
Historian, the sophomore album from Richmond, Va., native Lucy Dacus, has Paste collectively counting down the days until its March 2 release. The album’s second track, “Addictions,” is an honest, horn-assisted anthem, accompanied by a video directed by the singer-songwriter herself. A nameless protagonist explores the city, viewing it through a magical, black-and-white frame while reflecting upon her past. This visual device separates the reality of the present (the world of color) from the fantasies of the past (the black-and-white world), reinforcing the central idea of “Addictions”—how we come to rely upon substances, activities, places or people, and how hard it can be to leave them in the past. —Scott Russell
EELS: ‘The Deconstruction’
“The world is going nuts,” says Eels frontman E, aka Mark Oliver Everett. “But if you look for it, there is still great beauty to be found. Sometimes you don’t even have to look for it. Other times you have to try to make it yourself. And then there are times you have to tear something apart to find something beautiful inside.” That’s the basic idea behind The Deconstruction, EELS’ 12th album and first since 2014’s The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett. On Wednesday, the band announced that the album will have an April 6 release and released the haunting title track. “The deconstruction has begun, time for me to fall apart,” Everett sings over pillowy strings and some tape distortion. “The reconstruction will begin only when there’s nothing left.” The song revs itself up with crisp drums as Everett repeats, “I break apart.” —Matthew Oshinsky
Toronto-based singer-songwriter Bahamas—aka. Afie Jurvanen—is back with his fourth full-length album, Earthtones, and Paste was thrilled to have him in the studio to mark the release. Recorded in Los Angeles with the ultimate rhythm section—Pino Palladino (Adele, Ed Sheeran, The Who) on bass and James Gadson (Bill Withers, Herb Alpert, D’Angelo) on drums—Earthtones represents another creative breakthrough for Bahamas, whose sound is deeper and more dynamic than ever.
Company of Thieves
The trio has reunited for their first recording in six years, an EP coming in the spring called Better Together. Lead single “Treasure” marks a departure from the band’s more accessible past, with a jagged edge that slashes through the anger in America right now. Over a cutting guitar line, Genevieve Schatz belts “You took all the love, love.”
The Nashville-based singer recruited banjo master Noam Pikelny to produce her third album Motel Bouquet, with a crack session band, but her sultry alto and pared-down style remain firmly in place. Watch Canty command a room solo on “Motel.”
Yes, we had two Caitlyns (the other is Caitlin) in the studio this week, and while Nashville roots shine through for both, their voices are a study in contrast. Caitlyn Smith, who’s been a go-to songwriter for other artists for years, can belt with the best country singers, as she shows on her solo debut Starfire. Watch her sing the title track.
Interview: First Aid Kit on Turning Ruins Into ‘Ruins’
When Klara and Johanna Söderberg, the sweetly harmonizing Swedish siblings who record under the monicker First Aid Kit, dubbed their latest album Ruins, they weren’t kidding around. After the breakthrough success of their last release, 2014’s Stay Gold, kid sister Klara saw her life collapse around her. Exhausted, she stopped touring, returned to her fiancé in England, broke off the engagement, and wound up virtually alone with Johanna back in Stockholm. What she came up with became First Aid Kit’s fourth studio album. And it’s not exactly “fun.” On the eve of the album’s release, Klara Söderberg spoke with Paste about making Ruins from ruins, her evolving relationship with her sister, and why the weather in L.A. can make a Swedish gal sad. —Tom Lanham
The 15 Best Albums of 1968
Rock ‘n’ roll was at its most free in the pre-Woodstock glow of 1968. The Beatles went to India, Johnny Cash went to Folsom, the Stones put a mobile studio in a truck, The Monkees went off the air. But it couldn’t ignore what was happening at home—drugs, riots, assassinations, war, a doomed election, space travel, poverty, Civil Rights, women’s liberation. All of it seeped into the art of the free-love counterculture with that strange combination of militant idealism and comical self-regard, as though it were clear that humanity would one day look at 1968 for a generation’s heroes and villains. Fifty years later—in the midst of a modern drug epidemic, a tarnished presidency, a growing underclass and a renewed vigor for social progress —that’s exactly what we’re doing, starting with the soundtrack. Here are the 15 best albums of that momentous year. —Matthew Oshinsky
10 Female Artists You Can Like Instead of Taylor Swift
With the release of Swift’s latest Reputation video, “End Game,” in which she’s popping bottles on yachts alongside Future and Ed Sheeran, there’s no debating that the Taylor we knew (and many loved) is gone. If you fell hard for her early work, like 2010’s Speak Now or 2012’s slightly bolder Red, it’s time to move on. To help ease the breakup, here are 10 young female songwriters who deserve to take her mantle. From rock to electro-pop to vintage country, their sounds and influences are diverse but each brings a fresh perspective and that Swiftian gift for emotional honesty. More relatable and free from the confines of celebrity drama, these artists are squarely in tune with the world most of us live in now. —Loren DiBlasi