The Week in Music: Paste's Favorite Songs, Albums, Performances and More

Let's review: They Might Be Giants, Mark E. Smith, First Aid Kit, Jay Som, James Blake, David Bowie, the Stones and more.

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The Week in Music: Paste's Favorite Songs, Albums, Performances and More

This week at Paste we mourned the untimely death of Mark E. Smith, heart and soul of British post-punk anti-heroes The Fall. For over 40 years, Smith lent his one-of-a-kind voice to a soundtrack of sarcasm and cynicism with a guttural, unadorned style that was always ready to explode, like a street-corner shaman. In between Fall records on heavy rotation, we also made time to check out the new albums by First Aid Kit and They Might Be Giants (pictured top), plus new tracks by Jay Som, Corey Flood and James Blake. We also dove into Justin Timberlake’s strange new persona and the Rolling Stones’ dual masterpieces, Beggar’s Banquet and Some Girls. Catch up with Paste’s favorite albums, songs, performances and features of the past seven days.

BEST ALBUMS
First Aid Kit: Ruins
It’s been almost four years since Stay Gold, the critically acclaimed album full of Cosmic American Music-tinged folk, put Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg on the map. As fans eagerly awaited a follow-up, the sisters slowly broke down. Subjected to the draining tedium of a never-ending tour, they found themselves going through the motions as the ground beneath their feet never stopped moving. Written largely in Joshua Tree, where they hunkered down after the dissolution of Klara’s engagement, Ruins is a mature record. Not that it’s darker, per se; their gorgeous, blood-close harmonies and the sunny streaks of pedal steel guitar keep it from ever feeling too morose. Instead, there’s a gentle weight of experience that permeates the album’s lyrics, a freshly sharpened edge of cynicism explored across several different sounds. There’s the classic country of the easy-riding “Postcard,” the ‘50s doo-wop vibe of “Fireworks” and a return to their folk roots with “To Live a Life.” —Robert Ham

Read: First Aid Kit on Turning Ruins Into ‘Ruins’

The Might Be Giants: I Like Fun
More than 20 years ago, John Linnell and John Flansburgh decided to expand They Might Be Giants into a full rock ‘n’ roll band, sacrificing some of their uniqueness in favor of bass and live drums and a fuller sound. Their new album, I Like Fun, might be the finest realization yet of that fuller sound. It’s also their best album probably, since 1994’s John Henry. At 15 tracks long, I Like Fun finds Linnell and Flansburgh grappling with death and dread and other dark topics; these songs are littered with references to plastic hips and smiling skulls and lake monsters and murdered remains. “We die afraid. We live in terror. We’re naked alone,” the Johns sing in “Last Wave,” the album’s thrilling closing track. “And the grave is the loneliest place.” —Ben Salmon

Caitlyn Smith: Starfire
The good news for Caitlyn Smith, a Nashville songwriter with a golden voice, is that she might be able to bypass the country-music establishment altogether. While it was recorded in Nashville and is replete with late-night regrets and twang, her debut album, Starfire, features plenty of crossover-ready moments. “Don’t Give Up On My Love” swells with the dramatics of an Adele hit, and her ode to her old hometown of “St. Paul” could slot right between Sam Smith and Khalid on a Top 40 playlist. That’s clearly on the mind of Smith’s label, Monument Records, as she’s been given spotlight turns in recent days on The Tonight Show and Today. That might be to her benefit as the Nashville establishment might not react too kindly to an artist willing to bite the hand that feeds. Maybe it’ll inspire Smith and other female artists to sharpen their fangs and take their own nips at the powers that be. —Robert Ham

BEST SONGS
Jay Som: ‘O.K., Meet Me Underwater’
Indie-pop powerhouse Melina Duterte, aka Jay Som, shared more new music this week via Pirouette, a 7-inch featuring outtakes from the Everybody Works sessions. She also released the b-side, a lovely jam titled “O.K., Meet Me Underwater.” It opens with a cascading Duterte guitar line that soon drops away, supplanted by her hushed vocals, steady bass and show-stealing percussion. The song transforms in unpredictable and exciting ways, rippling and changing like liquid. “If you’re feeling okay, meet me underwater,” Duterte urges, an invitation to immersion. —Scott Russell

Corey Flood: ‘Soft’
Self-proclaimed “dark-pop” band Corey Flood, named for a Say Anything character, tackle disappointment and disillusionment with a sarcastic wink on their debut EP, Wish You Hadn’t. Led by Ivy Gray-Klein, who plays bass in the Philly band Littler, Corey Flood cite influences from Liz Phair and Helium, but add more wistful melodies, methodical rhythms and faint, whispery vocals to achieve a misty elegance. The EP’s latest offering, “Soft,” is balmy and delicate, but cutthroat in sentiment. Gray-Klein is deadpan in her vocal delivery as she skewers the hypocrisies that lie at the center of a very modern male archetype: the “Soft Boy.” —Loren DiBlasi

James Blake: ‘If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead’
James Blake  is back. The English electro auteur, currently at work on new material, shared his first new original song in two years and paired it with an entrancing, Alexander Brown-directed music video that plays with light much the same way as “If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead” plays with sound. Filmed around Los Angeles, the video manages to sync perfectly with Blake’s spectral, chopped-up vocals, following the singer as he anonymously motors through the city, haunting the highways like a ghost. “If the car beside you moves ahead / As much as it feels as though you’re dead / You’re not going backwards,” he sings as the video becomes increasingly surreal. —Scott Russell

FEATURES
Mark E. Smith Was the Hip Priest of Rock Frontmen
I remember the first time I heard “Hip Priest.” I had to lean into my computer to listen more closely. The sounds coming out of the shitty speakers were tense, eerie. Was that a knuckle cracking? Then, a tepid flicker of guitar, floating above steady cymbal taps, gesturing gently toward impending chaos. There was also a voice—Mark E. Smith’s voice, on what might be the most memorable song in his decades-long history with English post-punk heroes The Fall. I was a teenager, and I’d never heard a voice like Smith’s before—guttural, unadorned, declarative, ready to explode, like a street-corner shaman. Now that he is dead, I’m sure I never will again. —Loren DiBlasi

Justin Timberlake Is Pulling a Katy Perry and It Might Backfire
A lot has changed since the last time Justin Timberlake made a musical statement. His charisma and talent have afforded him a long career in entertainment, but as a 37-year-old white guy singing about the world in 2018, he won’t be able to bank on sex appeal and smooth falsettos the way he used to. It’ll be tough to declare himself an easygoing nature man while making apocalyptic videos with sexy androids and Illuminati references. He can’t dabble in ambiguous political symbols and also be the inoffensive charmer the NFL wants him to be. He is a man trying to drive in several lanes. When he announced that a new record, Man of the Woods, would be out Feb. 2, fans’ excitement was mixed with a little confusion. Did Justin Timberlake eat bugs now? Had he become a recluse? Is he Bon Iver? —Loren DiBlasi

How The Rolling Stones Won the ‘60s AND ‘70s With Two Era-Defining Masterworks
The Rolling Stones have long established their resiliency, but perhaps the most impressive artistic testament to their endurance is having top-rated albums a decade apart, in both 1968 and 1978. It’s not just the time between the acclaimed releases of Beggar’s Banquet and Some Girls, but the dramatic differences in those respective eras of popular music that the Stones were able to somehow dominate. Here’s a look at how they did it. —Michael Salfino

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