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

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It’s spring now, apparently, which means there’s more pollen than oxygen in the air and we’re being forced to carry out our musical obligations between sneezes. Thankfully, the good people at Kleenex and Claritin are working as hard as we are, so with our respective allergies at bay, we at Paste sustained regular operations this week and heard an especially excellent haul of new music. Most notably, the magical and mysterious Sky Ferreira returned with her first new song in six years, the darkly orchestral “Downhill Lullaby.” Seattle favorites Tacocat also shared another great new single from their forthcoming album This Place Is A Mess, and breakout British noisemakers Black Midi unleashed their third song ever, the disorienting “Crow’s Perch.” Superb new rock albums arrived via voices both new (Nilüfer Yanya) and already familiar (Jenny Lewis), and we rolled out another episode of the Paste Podcast featuring Andrew Bird and Yola. It was also a busy week in our NYC studio with visits from Steve Earle, Maggie Rose, Glen Hansard and John Paul White. Dig into all of it below (sneezes not included).

BEST ALBUMS

Nilüfer Yanya: Miss Universe

Style over substance is never a smart method for making art, and London based singer/songwriter Nilüfer Yanya masterfully obliterates that concept on her debut album, Miss Universe. With an album that borders on soul, pop, jazz and rock, Yanya is far too preoccupied with her inner demons and unique artistry to quibble over what one particular genre her music most closely resembles. In a current musical climate ruled by increased musical accessibility from streaming and in a world where so many people struggle with mental health, Miss Universe is a post-genre attempt at self-care that feels needed. This is an emotionally multi-faceted album to luxuriate in. Whether you take solace in her sultry, rich voice, instrumentals that range from bubbly to rugged or become invested in her confessional storytelling, Nilüfer Yanya’s Miss Universe can be easily enjoyed during a night out or night in. There are exultant singalongs (“In Your Head,” “Heavyweight Champion of the World”), luscious, bittersweet slow-burners (“Melt,” “Safety Net”), and sometimes humorous, sometimes alarming spoken-word interludes, which cultivate a transcendent alternate reality (“WWAY HEALTH,” “Sparkle GOD HELP ME,” “Experience?”). It’s an angsty LP concerned with entrapment, fear and expectations versus reality. Perhaps most triumphantly, Yanya pulls off jazz-infused, scrappy guitar pop with much more emotional and musical nuance than the buzzy, male-dominated “sad boi” acts like Rex Orange County or other beanie-donning dudes with keyboards and Stratocasters. —Lizzie Manno

Laura Stevenson: The Big Freeze

Despite the fact that she’s not nearly as well known as she should be, Laura Stevenson continues to make music that can stop your heart. In that regard, her latest is arguably Stevenson’s most adept album. The Big Freeze trades the raucous guitars and bold hooks of her earlier work for subtler musical textures on songs that open into more expansive interior worlds. The album as a whole sorts through a host of complicated feelings about family, the thin line between inter- and codependence, and trying, if just for a minute, to silence fear, shame and doubts and feel OK as oneself. Stevenson lays out a portrait of dysfunction on “Hum,” glimmers of guitar framing her precise, quiet vocals as she builds tension with such stealth that it comes as a surprise to find you’ve been holding your breath. “Hawks” is a wistful waltz-time evocation of a happier period, while the next song, “Big Deep,” feels like its emotional counterpoint as Stevenson describes a particularly fraught moment. She harmonizes with herself on both, accompanied by barely-there guitar, the low moan of a cello (on the former) and deep, distant piano (on the latter). Album closer “Perfect” feels like Stevenson has reached an equilibrium of sorts, balancing past with present, and emotional turmoil with a brittle sense of acceptance. There’s tenacity there, too: “I’ll be alright by myself tonight,” she sings in the first and last lines of the song, a folky number with acoustic guitar and multi-tracked vocal harmonies. It’s clear that she means it, and even if being genuinely alright takes more time, more effort, more emotional energy than she ever would have wanted, it’s equally clear that she is determined to make it true. —Eric R. Danton

BEST TRACKS

Black Midi:Crow’s Perch

Breakout U.K. act Black Midi have upped their overall song count to a grand total of three with their newest single, “Crow’s Perch.” The standalone track follows up the releases of their previous tracks titled “BmBmBm” and “Speedway” from Rough Trade. Only a year into their career, the freshest faces in the underground scene—Geordie Greep (vocals/guitar), Cameron Picton (bass/vocals), Matt Kelvin (guitar/vocals) and Morgan Simpson (drums)—have rapidly garnered attention for their sublime live performances (which we noted as one of the best shows we saw this year at SXSW). Watch the strobing new video for “Crow’s Perch” (dir. Vilhjálmur Yngvi Hjálmarsson, aka susan_creamcheese) below. —Montana Martin

Tacocat:Hologram

“Not so long ago I used to feel like I was too sensitive to even be alive / But maybe now it’s the opposite,” Tacocat frontwoman Emily Nokes sings atop bright, chunky guitar chords in the punk outfit’s latest single, “Hologram.” The song, the second released off their forthcoming album This Mess Is a Place, serves as a buoyant reminder of the illusory nature of power and reality. After all, Nokes tells us, “power is a hologram.” Thematically, “Hologram” branches out beyond the self to examine our place in not just our current power structure, but in the universe itself. Nokes ruminates on the tenuous nature of reality before asking, “How small are you?” It’s not a question meant to scare, but instead remind us how reassuring it is to be a tiny part of something large, wonderful and utterly baffling at times. —Clare Martin

Sky Ferreira:Downhill Lullaby

Sky Ferreira has shared her first new solo single since 2013, “Downhill Lullaby.” The nearly six-minute track begins dark and spare before building to a noisy, orchestral conclusion. Ferreira’s voice, usually so big and forward in the mix, hangs back here, eventually blending into a cacophony of strings while crooning about her subject “going downhill soon.” “Downhill Lullaby” is the first single from Ferreira’s forthcoming album Masochism, due out on Capitol Records later this year. The track was produced by Ferreira and Dean Hurley, with co-production from Jorge Elbrecht. Ferreira arranged and recorded the new album in Los Angeles, Calif., and Copenhagen, Denmark. —Adam Weddle

BEST PERFORMANCES

Maggie Rose

A day before she made her debut on national TV via TODAY, singer/songwriter and dynamite vocalist Maggie Rose stopped by the Paste Studio to perform a cluster of songs from her 2018 album Change the Whole Thing: “Hey Blondie,” “It’s You,” “Pull You Through” and “Smooth.” Rose, who’s currently on tour with Kelly Clarkson, brought along seven band members, several of them members of funk band Them Vibes, filling up our studio with even more joyful noise than usual and setting a record for the most bodies to ever occupy our tape room at once. They also played “Right On,” the groovy new single from Them Vibes featuring Rose.

Glen Hansard

Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard stopped by the Paste Studio this week to perform songs from his fourth solo album This Wild Willing, out on April 12 via ANTI- Records. Hansard performed the opening four tracks from the record: “I’ll Be You, Be Me,” “Fool’s Game,” “Race to the Bottom” and “Don’t Settle.” He puts on a hair-raising performance of “I’ll Be You, Be Me,” marked by a pulsing electronic drum beat, cooing piano, rousing synths and Hansard’s grizzled, hushed vocals. His performance of the sparse “Fool’s Game” is another highlight as it’s the kind of subtle, moving folk song that slowly sparks until you realize there’s a robust blaze crackling in the hearth of your soul. —Lizzie Manno

Steve Earle

Commemorating the release of his Guy Clark tribute album GUY (out today, March 29, on New West Records), Steve Earle dropped in the Paste Studio on Thursday to perform three songs from the record: “Dublin Blues,” “Desperados” and “L.A. Freeway.” While he made the album with his band the Dukes, Earle performed solo, stripped-down versions of these songs on his acoustic guitar.

FEATURES

Getting Lost In The Megahertz With Paddy McAloon

Of all the material Sony Music could have reissued of Prefab Sprout, the ever-evolving pop project led by singer-songwriter Paddy McAloon, it seemed unlikely the label would have directed their resources toward a new edition of the sweeping neo-classical/ambient chamber piece I Trawl The Megahertz. But it feels like a minor triumph for an artist who has been flying under the radar, particularly in the States, for the better part of two decades. This reissue also feels like the start of what could be a momentous 2019 for McAloon and Prefab Sprout. A new album—a concept record about famous/infamous women entitled Femmes Mythologiques—is slated for release this fall. There’s a forthcoming Record Store Day release of the acoustic versions of songs from McQueen that were originally released as part of a deluxe reissue of the album in 2007, as well as more vinyl reissues in the works. But perhaps the most surprising place you’ll likely hear McAloon’s music is in a forthcoming Spike Lee film. Paste spent some time on the phone with McAloon recently to discuss the inspiration and reissue of Megahertz, his huge backlog of unreleased materials, connecting with Spike Lee and what’s in store for the future of Prefab Sprout. —Robert Ham

The 10 Best Acts We Saw at Treefort Music Fest 2019

“Treefort is for everyone.” That’s the tagline supporting the Treefort Music Fest, which this past weekend (March 20-24) took over downtown Boise, Idaho for its eighth consecutive year. That phrase may sound like PR schmaltz, but it really is the creed by which every Treefort-er lives. The positive-vibes-only music and arts event welcomes everyone—from artists from as far as Japan to Treefort veterans and Boise natives Built to Spill to a Paste writer from all the way in Atlanta, Ga.—with open arms and ensures amiability throughout the long weekend. Here, we’ve compiled 10 of our favorite acts—some new and some already familiar—who put on great shows at Treefort. With more than 400 bands showcasing at the festival, there’s no way we could highlight them all—but we also loved Whitney Ballen, Super Sparkle, Be Forest, Rituals of Mine and Mike Krol. Whether or not you made it out to Boise this year, give these artists a listen, and start researching plane tickets for March 2020. —Ellen Johnson

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Talks About His Passion: HitRecord’s Collaboration with Logic

It’s not a competition. It’s a collaboration. That’s the spirit behind the latest TV special from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his HitRecord community, airing now on YouTube. He enlisted Platinum-selling rapper Logic to collaborate on a new song with ordinary people from around the world. Gordon-Levitt founded the HitRecord platform with his brother Dan 15 years ago, inviting his fans to collaborate on his own creative projects. When they opened the platform to allow the community to upload their own works, he was surprised to find collaboration came naturally. Now with the help of its more than 700,000 members, HitRecord has commercially released a host of projects from animated shorts to books and music and an Emmy-winning eponymous TV show. For Band Together with Logic, that community has expanded once again. Gordon-Levitt joined me for a discussion at the Paste backyard studio in Austin, Texas, during SXSW, along with five of the contributors who were in town for the premiere. “Some of the folks here have been part of the HitRecord community for a long time,” he said, “but some folks came because of Logic.” —Josh Jackson

Power to the People: Son Volt’s Jay Farrar Gets Back to His Roots

How’s this for symbolism: Son Volt’s highly topical new album Union includes four songs that Jay Farrar recorded while sitting next to Woody Guthrie’s handwritten lyrics to “This Land Is Your Land.” It’s a fitting juxtaposition: Just as “This Land Is Your Land” was among Guthrie’s more pointed songs, Union is Son Volt’s most overtly political album in nearly 15 years. On a dozen new tunes and a cover, Farrar casts a skeptical eye on late capitalism, addresses the widening gulf of income inequality, imagines Lady Liberty’s tears as she surveys the destruction we’re wreaking upon ourselves, and offers a prescription for unity at a fraught moment in a divided nation. This year marks 25 years since he started Son Volt after leaving Uncle Tupelo. Nine albums and several lineup changes (plus various solo releases and side projects) later, Farrar is still going—no small achievement in a musical landscape that looks radically different than it did in 1994. “I don’t know how long I’ll be doing it, but it’s great to have a creative outlet and I like doing what I’m doing, so I don’t see anything changing anytime soon,” he says. —Eric R. Danton

Julia Jacklin, Emotional Warrior

The first song on Julia Jacklin’s new album Crushing doesn’t have a chorus. It doesn’t have a bridge, either, or really any conventional song structure at all. It’s a winding narrative that culminates in what might constitute a chorus in a more traditional ballad: “I guess it’s just my life, and it’s just my body,” Jacklin repeats over and over until the flatline guitar suddenly snaps off. It sounds like giving up. But that track, “Body,” isn’t a surrender—it’s a flex. It’s about having the guts to know when enough is enough. There’s a point where you’ve exhausted yourself and your ability to withstand negativity, ignorance and hate. And Jacklin found power in stepping back. “Some days you’re up for it, and some days you’re just so resigned to the way the world is that you don’t have it in you to fight against what sometimes can feel like a never-ending tidal wave of bullshit,” Jacklin says over the phone late last month, describing the aforementioned lyric. The Australian singer/songwriter and indie-rock frontwoman, who makes assured, vivid songs ranging from strident rock ’n’ roll to slow-burning balladry, found new agency—both artistically and personally—while writing and recording Crushing, the follow-up to her 2016 debut Don’t Let The Kids Win that came out in February on Polyvinyl. —Ellen Johnson

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