This week at Paste Music we got rowdy with the new album by MGMT (pictured above) and got mellow with composer Nils Frahm’s latest opus. In between, we got way too excited about fresh music from Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, not to mention incredible new songs by Half Waif and Ezra Furman. We welcomed Haley Heynderickx, Julian Lage and some other great talent to our NYC Studio for live performances, and talked to Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon and Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos about their new records. Overall, a pretty great week in music! Catch up with Paste’s favorite albums, songs, performances and features of the past seven days.
Julian Lage: Modern Lore
Julian Lage contains many guitar personae within his slender frame. A prodigy from an early age, the 30-year-old has spent his career sliding fluidly between projects such as the languid cool jazz of his work with saxophonist Dayna Stephens, folksy duets with David Grisman, and thoroughly modern fare as with his recent recording of John Zorn compositions. When he takes the lead, as he does on Modern Lore, his new trio album recorded with drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Scott Colley, he gives all the sides of his musical personality a turn in the spotlight. The result is a snappy, multi-colored affair that affords him ample room to show off his unmatched skills on the guitar. —Robert Ham
MGMT: Little Dark Age
MGMT are a little young to be turning into tired old men. Yet on the duo’s fourth studio album, co-band leaders Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser sound as if a lot is weighing them down: the current political climate (according to them, the title is meant to be reassuring that this bleak period will only be a tiny one), our tech addictions, regretting one’s wasted time and modern dating. It’s a lot of bitter pills to swallow in one go. But stroking our necks to make the medicine go down is some of the band’s most dreamy and druggy music to date. Working again with producer Dave Fridmann and with some key assists from likeminded popster Ariel Pink and touring member James Robinson, the album feels like it’s alternately melting and lifting, warming and woozy. —Robert Ham
Nils Frahm: All Melody
It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since German composer Nils Frahm released his heretofore masterwork, Spaces. You know what they say: Time flies when you’re making achingly gorgeous post-classical, quasi-ambient minimalist organic dance music for piano. His new full-length finds its maker exploring new sounds and new spaces with often stunning results. Over the past few years, Frahm has scored films, collaborated with other artists (like singer-songwriter Woodkid and hip-hop producer DJ Shadow) and reunited with the band of his youth. Along the way, he has clearly indulged some sonic wanderlust; All Melody feels like the first delectable fruits of that labor. —Ben Salmon
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks: ‘Middle America’
The Pavement frontman and his band returned this week with their first new music in over four years, and even announced a summer tour of North America. Much like “Range Life,” off Pavement’s classic Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (which Paste named one of the band’s best songs in 2016), “Middle America” is a folksy, sunny number in which Malkmus poses deep existential questions amid warm acoustic chords, freewheeling electric riffs, and barebones drums and bass. “Men are scum, I won’t deny,” he sings, “May you be shitfaced the day you die.” Here, here. —Scott Russell
Ezra Furman: ‘Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill’
On Tuesday, Chicago singer-songwriter Ezra Furman revealed this batshit track from his new album, Transangelic Exodus, which came out Friday on Bella Union. “Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill” follows the albums first two singles, “Love You So Bad” and “Driving Down To L.A.,” and features rapid-fire guitar chords, dizzying synths and Furman’s scruffy, freaked-out lead vocals. The idiosyncratic, cathartic track addresses Furman’s struggles to grapple with his own sexuality and gender fluidity. —Lizzie Manno
Half Waif: ‘Keep It Out’
Half Waif is Brooklyn-based Nandi Rose Plunkett, an electro-pop singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist whose sound evokes lush landscapes and inventive influences. The prolific Plunkett has self-released two EPs and two albums, including 2016’s ornate Probable Depths, and will soon release Lavender, her Cascine Records debut, on April 27. On the spectral and beautiful “Keep It Out,” Plunkett sings of isolation and longing against the backdrop of a failing relationship. “I’ll keep you out, so you never see me unraveling,” she warns over an elegant and minimal beat. —Loren DiBlasi
The Portland-based singer-songwriter is going to make a big splash in 2018 with her debut album, I Need to Start a Garden. Singles “Worth It” and Untitled God Song” begin like solitary bedroom recordings and unfurl into addictive rock pieces. Here’s a solo rendition of her first single, “Oom Sha La La,” with a little backing help from the Paste Music crew.
Known for her stage work as both an actress and choreographer, Kat Cunning reveals her smoky, seductive alto and songwriting talents on new singles “Baby” and “Wild Poppies,” with equal measures of pop and jazz. Here’s “Wild Poppies”:
The virtuosic guitarist treated us to three tunes from his new album, Modern Lore. Check out the bluesy “Roger the Dodger” below, and read Paste’s review of the record here.
Interview: How Brian Fallon Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Songs
As Brian Fallon tells it, the Gaslight Anthem frontman has gotten wise to some existential truths leading into his sophomore solo album, Sleepwalkers. The Gaslight Anthem’s final effort together, 2014’s pain-wracked (and aptly dubbed) Get Hurt, found the composer lyrically dealing with the breakup of his marriage, which ended in divorce in 2013. The fallout continued into his solo debut Painkillers—suddenly, he was living on his own again, without the defining comforts of a band and a family, trying to redefine himself as a songwriter. So for his second effort, he threw out the rulebook and just wrote songs that made him happy. It was easier said than done. —Tom Lanham
Interview: Franz Ferdinand on the Secrets Behind Making ‘Always Ascending’
Some artists are understandably cagey about their craft, protective of their trade secrets and composing techniques. Not Alex Kapranos. When it comes to his Scottish alt-rock outfit Franz Ferdinand and their latest inventive outing, Always Ascending, the garrulous Glaswegian holds nothing back, and at a quick prompting will dive into such exhaustive, hair-splitting detail that he can come across like Homer’s rambling old-timer dad, Abe Simpson. Which is refreshing in an era when chart hits are so often designed by committee in far-off Sweden. Finding a songwriter who not only invests his work with heart, soul and meticulous kid-glove care but is more than happy to forensically dissect is a rare thing indeed. And listening to what makes this 17-year-old band tick is truly fascinating. —Tom Lanham
Paul Simon and the Hard Road to Graceland
In what is becoming an alarming trend, one of the most ever-present musicians of the past half century announced that his current tour will be his last. Paul Simon, who provided the soundtrack for America’s coming-of-age movie—sometimes awkward and bitter, sometimes joyful and sweet—has now come to an age where he’d rather remain, well, Homeward Bound. To mark one of the most distinctive careers in American music history, we looked back through Simon’s career, both with Art Garfunkel and solo, using some exclusive clips from the voluminous Paste Vault. —Michael Salfino