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

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2019 has officially begun. Last week was still slow, a period of post-holidays recovery for many, but this week the music world went into hyper-speed. Artists announced albums left and right. They shared singles and videos, and festivals continued to roll out their summer lineups. But one piece of news really snagged our attention: St. Vincent’s Annie Clar is producing Sleater-Kinney’s next album, and it’s out this year (!). They made the announcement with a staggering pair of photos capturing the four women in-studio, and we have never been less chill. Though we’ve yet to hear any musical products from this exciting new team, we did hear new songs (and watch very cool videos) from up-and-coming voices like SASAMI and Stella Donnelly, plus the third single from Sharon Van Etten’s forthcoming album Remind Me Tomorrow. We also rounded up the best tunes by folk songstress Laura Veirs, chatted with Steve Gunn about his new album The Unseen in Between and welcomed an excellent-as-usual lineup to the studio. Dig into all of that and more below.

BEST ALBUMS

You Tell Me: You Tell Me

The music of You Tell Me exists in this glorious place where several decades of British pop gently collide. That is to be expected considering the pedigree of the two singer/songwriters at the helm of this project. Peter Brewis is one-half of the flint-edged post-punk group Field Music, and Sarah Hayes has logged time in the glittering indie pop outfit Admiral Fallow and dabbled in traditional folk as a solo artist. Add in the detail that the pair met for the first time at a Kate Bush concert and the sound of You Tell Me may start coming into focus even before you get a chance to listen to their self-titled debut. The pair’s 11-song album weaves in and out of those varied sonic worlds with ease and wide-eyed joy, often grabbing little fragments into a lovely patchwork. Opener “Enough To Notice” layers the dreamy spirit of The Pentangle and their ‘70s psych-folk ilk with bubblegum pop, while “Water Cooler” and “Get Out Of The Room” imagines The Blue Nile’s sophisticated gleam meeting a hearty post-rock rumble. There is a tendency within the running time of You Tell Me for the duo to maintain their cruising altitude for long stretches when they clearly have the abilities to hit the accelerator and soar. The languid pace that they lend to the majority of the songs here suits them just fine, but put up against the peppier numbers, you may long for a bit more variation. At the same time, You Tell Me concocts such a spell with their debut that the journey will still delight and intoxicate. —Robert Ham

Angelo De Augustine: Tomb

Few artists can quiet a room quite like Angelo De Augustine. Of the small handful of times I’ve had the chance to catch the LA-based singer-songwriter live, I’ve been struck by the intimacy of his music; from his hushed whisper-vocals to the gorgeous fingerpicked acoustic guitar, he can make a music venue feel like a living room, demanding the audience’s full attention by simply refusing to raise his voice. When the news of Augustine’s new record, Tomb, hit, it was announced that he was working with Thomas Bartlett aka Doveman, a renowned musician and producer who helmed recent records by St. Vincent, Rhye, Glen Hansard and Stevens. If a lot of why Swim Inside the Moon was so heartbreakingly striking stemmed from its rough and lo-fi recording, how would a studio-produced release even remotely capture this same closeness? By and large, Bartlett’s cleaner mix works wonders for De Augustine. With cleaner vocals and an emphasis on a variety of instrumentation, Tomb is more direct than anything De Augustine’s released prior, while remaining as nostalgic and longing as ever. Evolving as an artist is tough work; the constant pressure to find the right balance of growth and experimentation without losing one’s initial identity can drive the most ambitious of artists insane. By adding cleaner production, synth and string flourishes alongside poppier and catchier refrains, De Augustine largely hits the mark on Tomb. With a few curveballs thrown throughout, the warm and comforting lull of Swim Inside the Moon is long gone, replaced by a fascinating record that updates his prior work without losing any of its intimacy. —Steven Edelstone

BEST TRACKS

Sharon Van Etten:Seventeen

Sharon Van Etten’s new album, Remind Me Tomorrow, is almost here. The intensity of “Seventeen” matches that of the two previously released singles, “Comeback Kid” and “Jupiter 4.” We’ve always counted on Van Etten to bring excellent lyrics and brooding melodies to the table, but we’ve never heard her like this—emboldened and chasing a darker, more driving strand of rock ‘n’ roll. “Seventeen” is almost Springsteen-esque in its grandiosity and nostalgia, though it’s more charged. The track’s companion video is, as Van Etten put it in a tweet, a “love letter” to New York City. In the clip, Van Etten chases a perfectly cast “shadow” of her former self (seriously—it’s eerie how similar these two look) around NYC, reckoning with her past and remembering when “she used to be 17.” The video is sentimental, but Van Etten is skeptical of youth’s glow, too: “I used to feel free, or was it just a dream?” she sings.—Ellen Johnson

Stella Donnelly:Old Man

Australian singer/songwriter Stella Donnelly announced her debut album, Beware of the Dogs, out on March 8 via Secretly Canadian, and the news arrived with a new single, “Old Man,” and its accompanying ‘90s-inspired music video. On the song, Donnelly serves up more of her signature biting critique with extra helpings of humor and ballsiness. “Oh are you scared of me old man, or are you scared of what I’ll do?,” she sings, almost teasing, but meaning business. Another timely lyric follows: “You grabbed me with an open hand. The world is grabbing back at you.” Donnelly sings sweetly, but the men in her songs—ranging from a mean boss in “Mechanical Bull” to the powerful desk-dwellers in “Old Man”—are anything but. Donnelly sticks up for herself with grace and wit, and if this first single is any indication, Beware of the Dogs will be a smart, satirical introduction to what’s sure to be an exciting career in music. —Ellen Johnson

SASAMI:Jealousy

Los Angeles artist SASAMI announced the release of her self-titled debut album with a surreal video for its new single, “Jealousy.” SASAMI previously released a 2018 seven-inch including “Not the Time” and ”Callous,” both of which are confirmed to appear on the new album, due out March 8 on Domino Records. The engrossingly bizarre video for the lead single “Jealousy” is set on what looks like a community-theater stage, and plays out with lo-fi imagery paired with some unsettling choreography from a witchified SASAMI and a hyperactive goblin. Although SASAMI credits the inspiration for the video to the “Bruce v. Chocolate Cake” scene from the 1996 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, the imagery feels straight out of the 1990 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches (memories of which you’ve surely repressed). The dreamlike single is a perfect overlay for the video, which addresses our often vicious mentalities of self-image. —Montana Martin

BEST PERFORMANCES

Lula Wiles

Lula Wiles are a Boston-based trio made up of Isa Burke, Ellie Buckland, and Mali Obomsawin, three friends who began collaborating in college, released their self-titled debut in 2016 and have since played major folk festivals like Newport and Philadelphia. They’re a Smithsonian Folkways signee and are releasing their sophomore album, What Will We Do, on the label on Jan. 25. Their three-part harmonies are warm, their lyrics real and smiles contagious, and they brought all three to the Paste Studio in New York City on Tuesday, Jan. 8, for a session in support of the new record, though they didn’t play either of the already-released singles (“Love Gone Wrong” and “Good Old American Values”). Rather, they played three new songs from What Will We Do for their Internet audience—”Hometown,” an ode to their shared home state of Maine, “Nashville, Man,” (“an anti love song about Nashville”) and “Independence Day,” plus an unreleased, unrecorded (until now) track written by Buckland, “It’s Cool, We’re Cool, Everything’s Cool,” a smart-ass millennial love song. —Ellen Johnson

Rayland Baxter

Singer/songwriter Rayland Baxter released his third studio album, Wide Awake, last summer to the tune of much hullabaloo in the Americana realm. The Nashville native swung by the studio this week and played two tunes from the record, “Angeline” and “Hey Larocco.” But he started the set not with one of his own songs, but with a tribute to the late Mac Miller, a cover of “Come Back to Earth,” the first song on the rapper’s 2018 album Swimming. Ever the master coverer, Baxter and his band closed with their take on Neil Young’s “Vampire Blues.”

FEATURES

Father John Misty Finally Shut Up in 2018. We Need Him Back.

In 2017, a few things were treated as givens. You knew you’d wake up with some sort of existential dread from checking the news or Twitter to see what horrific things Trump had said or done. You could also expect that within seconds of walking outside or turning the radio on that you’d hear “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B, almost always turned up to full blast. But seemingly without fail, you also knew that if you read nearly any music publication on any random day, you’d see some sort of outlandish interview or news story about Father John Misty, the most sardonic artist in indie rock—and perhaps in the entirety of the music industry besides Kanye West. Even with some of the most intriguing headlines over the last few years—Paste’s “Father John Misty is the Best Kind of Asshole” and Pitchfork’s “Here Is the Scandalous Father John Misty Interview You’ve Been Waiting For,” amongst multitudes of others—it’s completely understandable at some point to have thought to yourself, “Man, I wish Father John Misty would just shut the fuck up.” Well, you got your wish in 2018. So what happened? Why did the most mocking, sarcastic, and funny star of indie rock suddenly stop talking? —Steven Edelstone

The 20 Rising Australian Bands You Need to Know in 2019

There’s an indie-rock tradition that burns bright in Australia. The U.S., Canada, Britain and other countries where guitar music has played a big role in popular music have their own conventions, but Australia is almost methodical in its culmination of alternative scenes. Home to iconic rock groups like Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party, the continental country now finds itself in a new era of alternative music, one where it’s producing some of the best indie-rock music anywhere. Young bands are springing up all over the place, leaping from their respective scenes in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and beyond and shooting for nationwide (even worldwide) acclaim. After Courtney Barnett attracted global interest, we began to look to Australia for our next favorite rock artists. Breakout bands like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and The Goon Sax are already following in her footsteps, also taking cues from veteran alt-rockers like Twerps. After a slew of great Australian releases in 2018, we’re again looking Down Under for the next great crop of Sydney rockers, Melbourne guitar-pop players and Brisbane sceners. Here are the 20 Australian bands you need to know in 2019. —Ellen Johnson

Steve Gunn Steps Out of the Shadows on His New Album

Steve Gunn’s spellbinding guitar chops have always been highly-revered among those in the know. Whether on his extensive solo back catalogue or his collaborative projects with Hiss Golden Messenger, Kurt Vile, Michael Chapman and more, Gunn has proved himself to be an enigmatic, captivating musician who isn’t afraid of change. The singer/songwriter’s last two solo albums—2014’s Way Out Weather and 2016’s Eyes on the Lines—continued to push Gunn’s voice out of the shadows and contained increasingly accessible arrangements. His forthcoming LP and his second for Matador Records, The Unseen in Between (out Jan. 18), is an even more conspicuous continuation of those trajectories. —Lizzie Manno

The 10 Best Laura Veirs Songs

In a career that has just closed out its second decade, Portland, Ore., songstress Laura Veirs has pretty much run the modern folk gamut. She’s toured with The Decemberists, written hundreds of songs and had two children along the way. In 2018 she released her 10th studio album, The Lookout, launched a podcast (Midnight Lightning) and published her first children’s book, Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten. Along with her husband, longtime superstar folk producer Tucker Martine, she’s garnered accolades at every stage along the way. And yet somehow, we’ve never written a proper list on our favorite Laura Veirs songs. And so, looking back on her 20 years on scene, here are some career-spanning picks. —Jim Vorel

SNL Slotting Greta Van Fleet Proves The Show’s Music Direction is as Tone-Deaf as Ever

By now, you’ve probably formed an opinion about Greta Van Fleet, the controversial Michigan rock band made up of three brothers, Josh, Jake and Sam Kiszka, and their friend Danny Wagner. They’ve caught some (read: a whole lot of) flak for their Led Zeppelin-esque sound, which many would argue is nearly identical to the bluesy hard rock rendered by Robert Plant and co. Music critic Jeremy D. Larson wrote in a now-infamous Pitchfork review of their debut album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, that “Greta Van Fleet sound like they did weed exactly once, called the cops, and tried to record a Led Zeppelin album before they arrested themselves.” In a recent episode of the podcast Switched on Pop, hilariously titled “Stairway to Hell,” Larson joins the hosts as they match the sounds and/or lyrics of each track on Anthem to a specific moment in the Zeppelin discography. The similarities are that apparent. All this, and Greta Van Fleet are the hottest thing in rock right now. They have a massive fanbase (apparent in more than 2 million Spotify listeners), a handful of Grammy nominations and a world tour that’s selling out faster than you can say Kiszka. I’m not here to try and change your mind about Greta Van Fleet. But I will say this much: Greta Van Fleet are not rock ’n’ roll’s saviors. They’re riding in on a wave of Baby Boomer nostalgia, not reinventing guitar music, which is why yesterday’s news of their booking as the first Saturday Night Live music guest of the year—for Rachel Brosnahan’s Jan. 19 episode—was so disappointing. —Ellen Johnson

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