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

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Some areas of the country experienced blasts of arctic air this week, causing those regions to experience extremely cold temperatures. A blast of another kind hit us this week, too: New songs, albums and videos arrived in swarms. We started the week with new great singles from veterans like Jenny Lewis, Ryan Adams and American Football, plus stellar songs from on-the-rise artists like Hand Habits and Lula Wiles. Oh, and the biggest news items of the week: Weezer dropped a surprise covers album, our favorite new super duo, Better Oblivion Community Center (a.k.a Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst), ambushed us with a great collaborative record, and Vampire Weekend made their long-awaited return with two new singles—all on the same. damn. day. It was an enjoyably hectic week in the music world, and we sorted out the best of it so you don’t have to. Hear (and watch, and read) the best of the last seven days below.

BEST ALBUMS

Maggie Rogers: Heard It In A Past Life

In a way, Maggie Rogers is the exemplary model of a modern pop star. Her success story is one that’s exclusive to our times, when the Internet has the power to make moguls out of memes overnight. But Rogers is no Mason Ramsey: Her story begins not with a Walmart yodel, but with an unbelievably perfect demo, played for Pharrell Williams during a songwriting masterclass at New York University in 2016. The video of his reaction (stunned, in the best way) went viral, and Rogers stumbled into sensation. As Pharrell more or less said upon hearing that first cut of “Alaska” (which now boasts almost 70 million Spotify streams and club remixes for days), Maggie Rogers is singular. Other Internet-made stars flake and fade, but Rogers has continued to burn oh-so bright, incomparable in terms of musical style. While she’s kept us satiated with an EP and a crop of sparkling singles, we’ve been waiting for Heard It In A Past Life for a few years. Now that it’s here, one thing’s clear: Maggie Rogers is a pure pop star and a deserving one, at that. She’s self-assured in a way other radio stars aren’t, never afraid to fold in her folk background and do whatever she wants. And you just can’t help but root for her. If Maggie Rogers can find a way to exist alongside the likes of Billie Eilish, she’ll be the next big thing in pop. The charts are starved for something real and down-to-earth, and her songs, while heavily produced in comparison to some of her folksier beginnings, have an earnestness to them that can’t be fabricated. Rogers’ career may have first sparked on the internet, but now it’s a fire burning IRL. —Ellen Johnson

Steve Gunn: The Unseen In Between

Steve Gunn has a way of making the unremarkable remarkable and his latest album, The Unseen in Between, may be the greatest example. The Pennsylvania-born, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter has been making albums since 2007, and he’s recorded with the likes of Kurt Vile, Michael Chapman and Hiss Golden Messenger. Gunn’s best known for his entrancing guitar lines and though this new album doesn’t break away from that tradition, it achieves them in a different way. Gunn has dabbled with more experimental recordings throughout his career but over the last few years, he’s eased further into more accessible territory. His latest effort, The Unseen in Between, is his most accessible to date with simpler arrangements and a largely acoustic focus. However, the hypnotic sensibilities that he’s become synonymous with are still wildly apparent here. The opening track, “New Moon” is based around a trotting acoustic figure, but his vibrato electric guitar creates a dense cone of sound while shakers give it a meditative, freewheeling feel. And thanks to meticulous guitar riffs, “Lightning Field” is the perfect accompaniment for a late-night drive with its sedative, otherworldly aura. On The Unseen in Between, Gunn noticeably removes himself from his songwriting as he prefers to be a message-bearer for the stories of forgotten souls. There’s a faint despair in these songs, but he makes up for it with his undying devotion to capture them as vividly as possible—in a way that doesn’t glorify the subjects’ predicament, but highlights their quirks and shines a spotlight on their wisdom. There’s an innate comfort that comes with listening to Gunn’s music and The Unseen in Between is that Sunday afternoon moment of self-care that you need in your life. —Lizzie Manno

BEST TRACKS

American Football:Uncomfortably Numb

Iconic emo band American Football have released a new single, “Uncomfortably Numb,” ahead of their forthcoming third album, American Football (LP3). This newest track features accompanying vocals from Hayley Williams of Paramore, who pops up on the impending album’s tracklist alongside Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell. LP3, due out March 22 via Polyvinyl, is the band’s second release since their 2014 reunion, and offers a contrast from their previous records. Notably, the album will not feature cover photography of the Urbana, Ill., home that has appeared on the band’s previous album covers so famously as to spark fan pilgrimages and photo ops. Rather, the band has opted for imagery (still by photographer Chris Strong) of Urbana’s misty hillsides. This conscious visual break signals American Football’s move in a bolder, more unfamiliar direction. — Jackson Pacheco

Jenny Lewis:Red Bull & Hennessy

Late last year, Jenny Lewis teased that her new album, one of our most anticipated of 2019, was on its way early this year. After unleashing a pair of suspicious tweets, Lewis has confirmed the new record is called On The Line, and it’s dropping March 22 on Warner Bros. Records. The news arrives with the album’s first single, “Red Bull & Hennessy,” which arrived with a twinkly accompanying visualizer. “Red Bull & Hennessy” is Lewis’ first new music since her 2014 album The Voyager, and on this love song-turned-party song, she makes an invigorated return in a fit of bluesy electric guitar, “high on Red Bull and Hennessy.” She teases and taunts (“Don’t you wanna kiss me? Don’t you wanna even try?”), only to proclaim she’s “higher than you.” After five silent years, the singer/songwriter and former Rilo Kiley frontwoman is back and burning brighter than ever. —Ellen Johnson

Hand Habits:Can’t Calm Down

Hand Habits, the brainchild of Meg Duffy, released the second single from their forthcoming album placeholder this week, along with an accompanying video. The track, “can’t calm down,” bears all the hallmarks of a Hand Habits track: deftly plucked guitar, introspective lyrics and Duffy’s gentle voice, ready to rock you to sleep. Elizabeth Powell of Land of Talk also contributes vocals to the song. “What can one do with rage? With pain? With sadness? And is it is possible to learn how to wipe away completely the knee jerk reactions to situations that are buried deep in one’s DNA?” Duff said “can’t calm down.” This inner struggle is reflected in a warped, wonderful way in the Vanessa Haddad-directed music video. The skilled guitarist lopes through as a lonesome vampire, with none of the Gothic trappings, because the anemic lighting and vacant cityscapes are creepy enough. The story raises the question: Is it the monster’s nature to blame for their bloodlust, their memory of how much they enjoyed the last kill, or something else? —Clare Martin

BEST PERFORMANCES

Rival Sons

This Friday, Jan. 25, California rockers Rival Sons released their sixth studio album, almost 10 years exactly after their debut album, Before the Fire. They celebrated Feral Roots’ arrival a day early with a performance in the Paste Studio, where they played a stripped-down acoustic set. They opened with the album opener and first single, “Do Your Worst,” followed by a favorite from their 2011 album Pressure & Time, “Burn Down Los Angeles.” The best part of the session, however, may have been the end, when Scott Holiday and Jay Buchanan treated the internet to a cover of Olivia Newton John’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”

Julia Jacklin

Since releasing her debut solo LP Don’t Let The Kids Win, in 2016, Australian singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin has been keeping very busy. She and a new band, Phantastic Ferniture, shared their excellent self-titled debut last year, and now she’s preparing to release her second solo effort Crushing on Feb. 22. She swung by the Paste Studio to play two singles, “Body” and “Head Alone,” plus an unreleased song from the record, “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You.”

FEATURES

Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers on Their Haunting New Band, Better Oblivion Community Center

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst come from the same musical orbit. One could even argue, the two songwriters—age 24 and 38 respectively—are like long-lost musical siblings. Though at vastly different points in their careers, both musicians know how to crush and revive listeners with inspired woe, romantic poignancy and their instantly recognizable, consoling pipes. Bridgers’ breakout 2017 debut LP, Stranger in the Alps, and her recent work with critical darling supergroup, boygenius, has safely reserved her position in the club of young singer-songwriters poised for rosy careers. Oberst has dozens of records to his name, most notably with the angsty indie outfit Bright Eyes, as a solo artist and with bands like Desaparecidos and Monsters of Folk. Whether it’s the fictitious firm they reference on their band social media accounts or the album of the same name, Better Oblivion Community Center is a healing endeavor, and though the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the former, the latter is undoubtedly potent. They capture the serenity of a still lakefront, the spontaneous vigor of a thunderstorm, the lifelong, scenic memories of a childhood road trip and the peaks and troughs of relationships. The two tear-jerking singer/songwriters are at the peak of their powers here, and they’ve managed to distill the exhilaration of that one summer you hoped would last forever and the crackling warmth of a bonfire into 10 effortlessly touching tracks. —Lizzie Manno

The 10 Best Vampire Weekend Songs

When I first sat down to start pulling together my list of the top 10 Vampire Weekend songs, I consulted a few of my friends to ask for their lists to make sure I wasn’t missing anything egregious on my final draft. The end result was a handful of people arguing for about 25 different tracks, which is quite amazing seeing as the indie pop band from New York City have only released a total of 33 album songs and a handful of B-sides. It’s felt like an eternity since Modern Vampires of the City dropped in May 2013. Marked by endless delays of their fourth album, Father of the Bride, multi-instrumentalist and production genius Rostam Batmanglij’s departure from the band, forays into solo work, pop songwriting, political advocacy, radio DJing, and TV production, the band finally reemerged last week to announce their long-awaited new record. With two new songs released this week, we thought it was time to come up with our own list of our favorite Vampire Weekend songs in celebration of their return. —Steven Edelstone

Everything We Know about Sleater-Kinney’s New Album So Far

It’s daunting to follow an album with as much widespread acclaim as Sleater-Kinney’s 2015 LP No Cities to Love. However, the veteran feminist rockers have consistently proven over the years that they’re not afraid to step up to the plate. Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss are reuniting after a few years spent focused on their own projects. Here’s a look at everything we know so far about their forthcoming, St. Vincent-produced record. —Clare Martin

Meet Pillow Queens, the Irish Band Making “Puppy Pop”

The downstairs of The Workman’s Club in Dublin smells of spilled bourbon and drunken dancing. Situated on the River Liffey, at the very edge of touristy Temple Bar, its stage has welcomed the likes of a young Mac Demarco and pre-Be The Cowboy Mitski. On this particular April night, Irish band Pillow Queens stands before a packed house. Heavy red drapes, like something stolen from the Black Lodge, frame the four musicians. Pamela Connolly, the band’s bassist/guitarist/lead vocalist, sports a T-shirt mimicking the Reebok symbol but replaced with “Coolock,” the name of a north Dublin neighborhood. Connolly and the others riff through their set, including their EP State of the State, with a playfulness that I’ve come to indelibly associate with Pillow Queens. Their songs are angsty and filled with tight, cascading guitar chords, yet their onstage presence is as effortlessly cool as a spring breeze. —Clare Martin

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