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

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

This week in music saw the release of incredibly ambitious albums from the much-hyped, genre-hopping English producer and singer-songwriter, Blood Orange and the theatrical rock and rollers and real-life brothers from Long Island, The Lemon Twigs. We also heard bold new singles and great studio performances from the likes of Fantastic Negrito, Yak, Laura Jane Grace and more.

BEST ALBUMS

Blood Orange: Negro Swan

James Baldwin once noted that sensuality existed at the root of Black America’s “ironic tenacity” – that tendency to endlessly weave suffering into something luscious. To be sensual, Baldwin suggests, is not some promiscuous thing. Rather, it is to “respect and rejoice in the force of life.” Dev Hynes has crafted a work that does exactly this. With myriad collaborators from A$AP Rocky and Puff Daddy, to rising talents TeiShi and Ian Isiah, Negro Swan looks unflinchingly at black and queer life—its traumas, its tensions, its passions. And tucked somewhere within it all, is hope: “The sun comes in,” Hynes reminds us at last. —Jenzia Burgos

Big Red Machine: Big Red Machine

Big Red Machine was a decade in the making, starting with the sketch of a song The National’s Aaron Dessner sent Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon for the Dark Was the Night charity compilation. The duo enlisted more than two dozen collaborators, including vocalists like Lisa Hannigan, Phoebe Bridgers, This Is the Kit’s Kate Stables and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, and string arrangements from Rob Moose and Dessner’s twin brother Bryce. Side projects like this often seem tossed off, but Big Red Machine feels like the opposite—something remarkably ambitious, a labor of love that sees two of indie rock’s most talented and creative minds pursuing a passion without pressure, or limits. The resulting music can sound at times like a National album with Vernon’s echoing, manipulated falsetto serving as a stark contrast to the warm, intimate baritone of Matt Berninger, and at other times like a Bon Iver album with more complex and inventive chordal patterns and rhythmic structures. It’s experimental but affecting with Vernon’s snippets of heart-on-sleeve vulnerability popping up screaming from a cloud of otherwise opaque lyrics. —Josh Jackson

The Lemon Twigs: Go To School

The album is dazzling in its ambition, not least because the Lemon Twigs are in earnest. Go to School seems at first to have a lot in common with the music of Sparks, which features another pair of brothers. Ron and Russell Mael also have a theatrical streak and an impressive command of musical sounds and styles, along with a propensity for sardonic lyrics and a deadpan delivery. The D’Addarios, by contrast, seem genuinely interested in sussing out the motives of their characters, and they work to make them more than caricatures. That is, for an operetta where no one questions why the protagonist is a chimpanzee passing for human and attending high school. Anyway, the bully, Shane, his parents: they’re complicated people, and the D’Addarios are sympathetic storytellers. True, it’s a batshit crazy story, but the Lemon Twigs make it compelling, highly tuneful and undoubtedly more memorable than an album of indie-pop songs would have been. —Eric R. Danton

BEST SONGS

Yak: White Male Carnivore

English rock trio Yak have released a brand new single, “White Male Carnivore”—their first new music since their 2016 debut LP, Alas Salvation. We don’t yet have all the details on their second full-length just yet, but they’ve announced a new record deal with Virgin EMI for their sophomore album and released its first cut, “White Male Carnivore.” The song opens with heaping, crunchy guitar feedback and you’re faced with Burslem’s familiar deranged vocals deconstructing his identity as heavy, chaotic musical walls start to cave in around him. There’s even strangely effective, Beach Boys-esque “ba ba ba” backing vocals, and Burslem humorously and sardonically growling, “He’s got the whole wide world in his hands.” —Lizzie Manno

Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers: Apocalypse Now (& Later)

Laura Jane Grace has shared “Apocalypse Now (& Later),” the debut single from her forthcoming album with her new band, Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers. The album, Bought to Rot, comes out Nov. 9 through Bloodshot Records. “Apocalypse Now (& Later)” is a tender love song, in a sort of twisted way. “On top of the world, at the end of the world, with you,” Grace sings. It’s about “witnessing the end of the world with the person you care about the most,” as explained in a press release. Bought to Rot will be Grace’s first non-Against Me! album since forming the band in 1997. —Justin Kamp

PASTE STUDIO

Fantastic Negrito

Rhythm and blues singer-songwriter Fantastic Negrito released his third studio album, Please Don’t Be Dead, this summer via Cooking Vinyl. Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, better known by his stage name Fantastic Negrito, stopped by the Paste Studio with his band to perform four tracks: “Plastic Hamburgers,” “The Duffler,” “Dark Windows,” and “A Cold November Street.”

Milo Greene

Los Angeles indie-pop trio are set to release their third full-length record, Adult Contemporary, on Sept. 7 via Nettwerk Records. The band came into the Paste Studio to play three songs, all from their new LP: “Young at Heart,” “Be Good to Me” and “Move.”

FEATURES

It’s Time to Revisit the Overt Jubilation of Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book

Whenever I revisit Coloring Book, I feel more hopeful about America’s future, and just in general. More than two years have passed since the album’s release, and so much music has arrived since then that evokes a similar serotonin, but Coloring Book reigns as an uplifting, spiritual offering, an album that critiques hope as much as it encourages it. Chance points out in the aforementioned track “I Might Need Security,” “I ain’t no activist, I’m the protagonist,” but, on Coloring Book, he just might be both. —Ellen Johnson

10 Great Country Albums For People Who Don’t Like Country

So many people think they’re just too cool for country music. Sure, we’re not all Fireball-swiggin’, truck-drivin’ lovers of cutoff jeans, but the roots of country music were hardly built around the tropes that so often condemn it. Country music is actually rooted in Anglican song traditions, and over the years, the genre has been influenced by pop, rock, hip hop and more. While every album on this list won’t appeal to the same person, each record points to a subset of standout releases in a genre that’s as nuanced and as any other. —Dacey Orr

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill Turns 20; Revisit the Influential 1998 Album

New Jersey singer and rapper Lauryn Hill was one of few artists to become an international superstar and musical game-changer with just one studio album to her name. Despite largely turning her back on the music industry, Hill’s landmark 1998 album is still in the hearts and minds of millions of fans and musicians across the world. In 2015, the record was included by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry, which designates recordings that are considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.” —Lizzie Manno

15 Bands That Kickass Despite Awful Band Names

Coming up with a good band name is no easy task. Sure, there’s a seemingly infinite amount of words to choose from, but there are so many past and present bands that it’s hard to come up with something original. For better or worse, current bands are forced to be more creative and many bands have faltered in that challenge. Bands with bad names can be divided into a number of categories—strange names, cheesy names, names that are difficult to Google, gross names, names that sound nothing like their music, offensive names, names that have confusing symbols, names with words that are intentionally spelled wrong and more. There are plenty of great bands that don’t get the time of day because people can’t get over their awful band name. So, Paste came up with 15 current bands whose names may be terrible, but whose music is simply too excellent for them to be overlooked. —Lizzie Manno

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