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The Week In Music: The Best Songs, Albums, Performances and More

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As of this writing, the October sky is an especially stunning shade of blue outside the Paste office windows in Decatur, Ga., and the week’s best music was just as striking as those cobalt hues. Over the last seven days, we were treated to great new albums from Kurt Vile, Haley and Anna St. Louis, who also stars in one of this week’s features. We also spoke with rising pop musician Miya Folick, and we listed the 50 best title tracks ever and 10 musicians who moonlighted as politicians. On that note, here’s your reminder to get registered (if you’re still able) and vote. Keep scrolling for the week’s best albums, tracks, Paste studio performances and more.

BEST ALBUMS

Kurt Vile: Bottle It In

When all is said and done, Bottle It In feels like the musical equivalent of an excellent 90-minute movie padded with a couple unnecessary scenes to get past the two-hour mark. There are plenty of high points here, to be clear. “One Trick Ponies” is a mystical love song with a Pavement-y lope that benefits from the unexpected appearance of an lovely backing choir. The robot voice that bookends “Loading Zones” is a fun touch. “Hysteria” burns slowly, with Vile’s wandering drawl dragging behind an rippling guitar line. Philly harpist Mary Lattimore’s pretty playing lightens the title track, which smolders to a soldierly rhythm. And “Come Again,” which rides one distant banjo riff for nearly six full minutes, sounds like an Appalachian drone-folk tune dipped in big-city daydreams and left out in a Mid-Atlantic summer to dry. —Ben Salmon

Haley: Pleasureland

“People are complicated, and I am no exception!” This was the crux of multi-instrumentalist Haley McCallum’s statement in regards to her latest album, Pleasureland—an expectation-bucking, all-instrumental release she felt moved to do after the success of 2016’s Impossible Dream. A composer, producer, writer, guitarist, keyboard player, pianist, teacher, and mother, McCallum—formerly known to the music world as Haley Bonar—decided to shine a light on other aspects of her artistry, leaving the power-pop and barbed, lyrical observations she has become known for, behind. —Madison Desler

BEST TRACKS

Julia Holter:Words I Heard

“Words I Heard” is a literary deep-dive into a world of sensory warmth that serves as a contrast to Julia Holter’s examination of what she called “the cacophony of the mind in a melting world.” The song’s orchestral accompaniment swirls like fog, a picturesque landscape for Holter to stroll through as she draws on sources from Dante to Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan for lyrical inspiration. —Justin Kamp

Kaia Kater:Grenades

Written on a wurlitzer, the piano on the Grenades title track is the guiding light among mellowed guitar, syrupy bass, humble drums, mood-shifting pedal steel and Kater’s angelic vocals. “Rain heavy like carpet bombs, sweetgrass and lemonade / Fold the memory into your arms and whisper it away,” Kater sings in a tender and devastating foil. During the album’s creation, Kater sat down with her father to talk about his experience as a boy in a war-torn nation. “I wrote it [“Grenades”] after hearing his testimony of the U.S. invasion in 1983 … what that felt like as a child … hearing bombs and chaos,” she says. “I wrote it as this comparison of this beautiful landscape with ultimate terror.” —Adrian Spinelli

Charles Bradley:Can’t Fight the Feeling

“Can’t Fight the Feeling,” the latest single Bradley’s forthcoming posthumous final album, Black Velvet, is a cut from the mid 2000s, one that Bradley’s friend and co-writer Tommy “TNT” Brenneck originally thought was lost to the cutting room floor. “For some reason I always thought we hadn’t finished the vocal track,” Brenneck said. “But, to my surprise, not only was it finished, it was a powerful performance by Charles, and the band is on fire to boot.” He’s spot-on in his assessment—”Can’t Fight the Feeling” is a wham-bam track of joyous jazz rips and quixotic vocals. Before finding success as a solo artist, Bradley worked as a James Brown impersonator, and it’s not hard to see why. When he howls, the ground shakes. —Justin Kamp

BEST PERFORMANCES

Valley Maker

On album release day (Oct. 12), Valley Maker’s Austin Crane came into the Paste Studio with his band to perform three tracks from his new record, Rhododendron: “Seven Signs,” “A Couple Days” and “Beautiful Birds Flying.” His crackling, rich vocals tell a story on their own, but his lyrics open up a clown car of cosmic folk tales infused with warm spirituality and prying at the door of the human soul. His songwriting style is tender and often cryptic, but no less accessible and moving. —Lizzie Manno

The Dirty Nil

Our studio was the loudest it’s been in a while when rowdy Canadian rockers The Dirty Nil roared in to play three songs from their sophomore LP, Master Volume, which was released on Sept. 14. The trio treated us to “Please, Please Me,” “Pain of Infinity” and “Hit the Lights,” all thrashing ragers.

FEATURES

The 50 Best Title Tracks of All Time

Title tracks often distill an album’s essence into one succinct, memorable song. Other times, they might glue a record together or serve as a thematic starting point for the artist. Some title tracks have become the most defining songs of that particular artist’s career and some are under-appreciated deep cuts that have become cult favorites. Not every album has a title track, but the ones that do often warrant deeper listening to see if the artist was trying to relay a message about the body of work they’ve created. In celebration of the mighty title track, Paste’s music staff compiled 50 of our favorite title tracks of all time, limiting ourselves to one song per artist. —Lizzie Manno

10 Musicians Who Ran for Political Office

The history of popular music is littered with political pontification. As far back as the Civil War, songs that detailed the observations and attitudes of the day made their way into the American musical canon. In the mid 20th century, those topics found a broader focus, beginning with Woody Guthrie and his tales of hard working Americans and transient immigrants that suffered and struggled against the hardships of the day. The late 1940s and ’50s paralleled the rise of protest singers, with groups like the Weavers and later, their mainstay Pete Seeger adding their voices to the fray. In the ’60s, the call to arms became ever more compelling, as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and Peter, Paul and Mary imbued mainstream music with lyrics that rallied young people to action. Still, for all their preaching and pontification, relatively few artists have actually made the tenuous leap from performance to politics. Here is a list of some that did. — Lee Zimmerman

Anna St. Louis On Finding Her Own Voice

The first single on singer/songwriter Anna St. Louis’s debut LP If Only There Was a River was the song “Understand,” and it’s about what you’d expect: wanting to understand, wanting to be understood and the aha moment when you finally do/are, as well as the frustration in not understanding. “Untangled, finally,” St. Louis sings. “Put it all out on the table/ Understand me, do you understand?”If Only There Was a River, released Oct. 12 on Woodsist/Mare Records, carries on in that same tone throughout its 11 tracks, one of comfort, low-lighted by the kind of delicate, spare acoustics that inspire deep and thoughtful respites. St. Louis is making her full-length debut with the record, but, after spending time with its carefully contrived ebbs and flows and smartly observed lyrics, you’d never know she was a spring chicken. —Ellen Johnson

Miya Folick Wants to Make You Dance and Cry with Her Debut LP, Premonitions

Quickly gaining admirers across the globe, Miya Folick’s bold, operatic vocals are both divine and burly. Toggling from the angelic pop heights of “Stock Image” and the intoxicating delicate vocal loops of “Thingamajig” to the tempestuous, #MeToo-inspired call to arms of “Deadbody” and the fierce, buoyant “Freak Out,” worthy of closing the world’s greatest party, Folick is nothing if not dynamic. Premonitions proves she’s capable of framing her otherworldly, glistening pop as both intimate, grounding inner monologues and towering pop epics. The one constant is her success in morphing from one sound to another without having to bend over backwards in a way that feels gimmicky or jarring. —Lizzie Manno

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