We had a great time this week listening to new music from The Barr Brothers, Har Mar Superstar, The Dears and plenty more. We also dove into stories about the disturbing allegations facing R. Kelly and the state of protest music in the Trump era. Check out Paste’s favorite albums, songs, live performances, and feature stories of the week.
Soft Sounds From Another Planet
Michelle Zauner, sole creator of the indiepop project Japanese Breakfast, made 2016’s Psychopomp amid the death of her mother from cancer, a catastrophic event that can easily turn anyone to an unfamiliar path. For Zauner, it meant an ongoing search for solace in loss. Soft Sounds From Another Planet continues that journey. It’s a somber, starry lullaby that results in periods of fitful sleep marked by struggles with fading love and death’s vague mystery. —Emily Reily
Times Infinity Volume Two
Two years on from its predecessor, Times Infinity Volume One, the sequel from Dears co-conspirators Murray Lightburn and his wife Natalia Yanchak offers a moody collision of sprawling yet succinct melodies, all driven by Lightburn’s irrepressible croon, didactic rhythms and arrangements that are measured and articulate. Despite the steady ebb and flow of musical contributors over the course of their career, Lightburn and Yanchak still tap into a cinematic style, turning songs such as “1998” and “All the Hail Marys” into narratives full of arched drama and concerted deliberation. —Lee Zimmerman
Crashing Hotels: “Tsunami”
Crashing Hotels are frontman Ao Anderson and drummer Tony Bednar. Their socially conscious synth-rock sounds like a post-apocalyptic New Order, swathed with gothic vibes and dance beats. “Tsunami” is the second single from sophomore album Exploration Exploitation, which has a series of splashes and events leading up to its full release on Nov. 11. The track’s gripping synths are wrapped around Bednar’s math-y drums and Anderson’s deep vocals. A Japanese sample in the bridge hints at a greater mission and builds into an explosion meant solely for the dance floor. —Adrian Spinelli
Har Mar Superstar: “Personal Boy”
This epic, seven-and-a-half-minute love song from Har Mar Superstar’s forthcoming Personal Boy EP is the result of a collaboration earlier this year with producers BJ Burton and Lazerbeak. The trio met up in April for a two-day session and wound up with seven new songs, three of which found their way onto the EP. Personal Boy also includes a radio edit of the title track and an Afghan Whigs cover (“Demon in Profile”)—fitting, since Har Mar Superstar will be hitting the road with the band on tour in September. —Bonnie Stiernberg
Har Mar Superstar
Sun Riah: “Grandma’s Room and Trains in the Distance”
The project of singer, songwriter and instrumentalist M. Bailey Stephenson, Sun Riah showcases masterful minimalism and operatic vocals on her new album Sitting With Sounds and Listening for Ghosts (her third in four years). Lead track and lead single “Grandma’s Room and Trains in the Distance” opens like a creaking door. Three plucked strings hum softly, and the tune swells into a sonic expansion that’s almost ironic for a narrative about exploring in a space’s emptiness. —Hilary Saunders
WRONGBOY: “With These Two Hands”
Last week, L.A. rapper WRONGBOY graced the world with a new mixtape (With These Two Hands, released by Deathbomb Arc) that finds him working with a host of equally forward-thinking producers who give him a jagged yet sturdy platform to grunt and growl through his increasingly paranoid and violent visions of the world. The title track is one sliver of this daring and kind-of frightening voice, a highlight on a release that makes you feel for the poor guy but not want to get too close lest he snap your head off. —Robert Ham
The Barr Brothers: “You Would Have To Lose Your Mind”
At once delicate and expansive, the first single from new album Queens of the Breakers opens with Sarah Page’s trickling harp plucking. Andrew Barr’s deep percussion plods, but still with precision, keeping the tempo steady for other instruments and voices and ghosts to float in and out of time. As the song broadens, other strings swell and shake as Brad Barr’s vocals lines mimic his guitar riffs in the style of traditional American blues. —Hilary Saunders
Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge
Guitar-gods-in-making Chris Eldridge (of Punch Brothers) and Julian Lage performed a few songs off of their record Mount Royal on Monday. To start came two original instrumental tracks, “Bone Collector” and “Broadcast.” Watch in awe as they slip between lead and rhythm guitar in the blink of an eye and improvise with one another without missing a beat. For the duo’s last song, they offered a cover of the classic bluegrass tune “Things in Life” by Don Stover, with Eldridge singing.
Percussion-loving New Orleans six-piece Sweet Crude stopped by the Paste Studio on July 17 to play three tracks from their latest record, Créatures. The bilingual Louisianans kicked it off with upbeat show-starter “Laissez Les Lazy,” then played “Mon Esprit,” the empowering track they released a music video for this spring. The session closed with “Isle Dans La Mer,” or “Island in the Sea,” which showcased singers Alexis Marceaux and Sam Craft’s sweet harmonies.
Trumpeter, singer and recent Juno Award winner Bria Skonberg brought her joyous nightclub vibe to the Studio on Wednesday, playing a handful of swingers from her latest Okeh release, With a Twist. “Same Kind of Crazy,” High-Hat, “Trumpet, and Rhythm” and “Whatever Lola Wants” each mixed a little Ella with a little Louis (and even some scatting), with Skonberg’s crack quartet dancing and juking all the way.
Can U2 Redeem the Stadium Show?
Basketball-arena concerts are bad enough, but football-stadium shows are three times worse. All the problems with sound, access, parking, ushers, vendors, nosebleed seats and impersonal spectacle triple when you move from a 20,000-person arena to a 60,000-person stadium. Not many musical events are worth all that hassle, but a small handful are. I thought U2’s Joshua Tree tour this summer might be such an exception, so I headed for FedExField, home of the Washington football team with the racist nickname. —Geoffrey Himes
R. Kelly Will Keep Abusing Young Women as Long as We Keep Letting Him
Since Buzzfeed published Jim DeRogatis’s report on Monday that R. Kelly is allegedly keeping young women in a sex “cult” in his home, the age-old issue of separating art from artist has resurfaced. But the biggest issue when it comes to the R&B singer’s decades-long history with underage girls or barely legal women isn’t whether it’s still okay for you to drunkenly karaoke “Ignition (Remix)”—it’s that the song shouldn’t have existed in the first place. —Bonnie Stiernberg
Where Is All the Protest Music of the Trump Era?
Through a haze of disbelief in the aftermath of the presidential election, more than a few people consoled themselves with a common refrain: This new president would mean a new golden age for protest music. So where do things stand, six months after Trump’s inauguration? Has the new golden age of protest songs begun? Not really. —Eric R. Danton