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

The calendar year is inching further and further towards a close, but there’s no stopping the influx of great new music. This week brought exceptional music from both seasoned veterans and fresh new faces. Athens, Ga. alternative rock giants R.E.M. shared a boxset of BBC material while Dinosaur Jr. guitar whiz J Mascis shared his new solo LP Elastic Days and Danish punk mainstays Iceage shared a new track from a split seven-inch single with tourmates the Black Lips. Paste shared chats with Richmond, Va. singer-songwriter Natalie Prass and new Chicago duo Grapetooth, who both spilled the details on their new albums. Dive headfirst into all the best new albums, songs, performances and features from this week below, as chosen by the Paste Music Staff.

BEST ALBUMS

R.E.M.: R.E.M. At The BBC

In an MTV documentary that tracked the career of R.E.M. up to and including the release of their 1991 album Out of Time, bassist Mike Mills spoke about how important it was for the band early on to play live anywhere and everywhere they could. It was, he said, how they bonded as musicians and friends, while helping build the core fanbase that would launch them instantly into the upper reaches of the college rock circuit. Those days also cemented the group’s belief in the power of a great live performance. It was a value that helped usher their steady rise from critical darling to arena-sized success story. From the small venues where they made their name in and around Georgia to the huge festival dates they enjoyed toward the end of their 30-year run together, that ideal never wavered. The recently released boxed set R.E.M. At The BBC is the ultimate reflection of that group sensibility regarding live performance. An eight-CD and one DVD collection, this material was culled from the vast archives of the U.K.-based TV and radio company, including radio sessions and appearances on Later…with Jools Holland. The cream of this set is the five full concerts captured at different junctions of the group’s existence. All are near perfect, breaking down with clarity how tightly controlled they approached live performance and elucidating how R.E.M. evolved from the jangle and fidget of Chronic Town to the agitated rock and lucid beauty of Accelerate. —Robert Ham

J Mascis: Elastic Days

J Mascis’ guitar solos are instantly recognizable. Ultra clean and deceptively complex, the Dinosaur Jr. guitarist and singer has rightfully claimed his place as a modern guitar god in the 33 years since the band’s breakthrough debut album, Dinosaur. His smooth, classic rock-influenced lead guitar tones with little to no distortion, reverb, or any frills whatsoever played on top of heavy walls of fuzz became emblematic of the late ’80s/early ’90s indie-rock sound. But when Mascis began working alone in the studio with 2011’s Several Shades of Why (his first solo effort Martin & Me from 1996 is a live album), those guitar solos were largely nowhere to be seen, abandoning his trademark electric style for something much quieter. Trading in power chords for acoustic fingerpicking, Mascis began to showcase a vastly different musical side, a quieter and more contemplative sound that was miles away from the brash early indie rock that drove his band to becoming icons of the college rock genre and influencing scores of indie bands in the process. On his third solo album, Elastic Days, Mascis has suddenly found a way to merge the two styles, combining his distinct solos with the beautiful acoustics of his first two releases on his own. He also sounds more confident than he’s ever been outside of Dinosaur Jr., placing more of an emphasis on his lyrics and putting his famous drawl more front and center than ever, never once hiding behind his backing instrumentals. —Steven Edelstone

BEST TRACKS

Iceage:Balm of Gilead

Danish rock quartet Iceage are back with their first new music since their fourth studio album, Beyondless, which dropped earlier this year. As they gear up for a North American tour with The Black Lips, Iceage has released a brand new track, “Balm of Gilead.” The track bears stylistic similarities to the band’s latest LP as its garish, theatrical punk rock yearns for the titular Biblical cure-all and medicinal perfume, the Balm of Gilead. With a backdrop of militaristic drums, tambourine and guttural, stouthearted guitars, frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt teems with overwhelming pain and desire—forever eliciting enigma, chaos and debauchery. Beyondless cemented Iceage’s magnetic, elusive status, and “Balm of Gilead” sees them continue to plod on along that ambiguous-yet-rousing path. “Balm of Gilead” will be part of a split 7” with tourmates The Black Lips. The physical single will be available exclusively at the shows on their North American co-headline tour. —Lizzie Manno

Nilüfer Yanya:Heavyweight Champion of the Year

Nilüfer Yanya is a rising rock songstress to watch, not only because of her infectious guitar melodies and marvelously brooding vocals, but also because she’s opening for both Sharon Van Etten and Interpol on their respective tours over the next few months. Those are some pretty impressive tickets for a singer/songwriter who hasn’t even released her first album yet, but the London-based artist is wise beyond her 23 years. Following a string of critically adored single releases, Yanya is back with a new one, “Heavyweight Champion of the Year.” The song looks inward as Yanya sings in moody, staggering staccato over barebones electric guitar, “This is the part where I can’t think for myself.” In the video, Yanya assumes multiple different characters, but only one seems to stick: her glamorous guitar-playing counterpart, who anchors the video with shreds and shrieks. —Ellen Johnson

William Tyler:Fail Safe

Indie-folk guitarist William Tyler has released the first single from his forthcoming LP Goes West, “Fail Safe.” Goes West is Tyler’s first new album since 2016’s Modern Country and is scheduled for release on Jan. 25, 2019. The intricately woven, guitar-based instrumental feels like a journey, with his acoustic as star of the show. The strings layer, growing through the track’s end, giving it a sense of restlessness and excitement—of choosing not to stay stagnant but also embracing the change. Whatever downsides moving cross-country to sunny California may have, the impact on Tyler’s music certainly isn’t one. In a statement about the album, M.C. Taylor (of Hiss Golden Messenger) described the “emotional clarity” of Tyler’s forthcoming album. “It offered up a model for what I wanted my head to feel like,” said Taylor. “Goes West marks a sort of narrowing of focus for William’s music; it sounds as though he found a way to point himself directly towards the rich and bittersweet emotional center of his music without being distracted by side trips.” —Emma Korstanje

BEST PERFORMANCES

Ximena Sariñana

Mexican singer/songwriter Ximena Sariñana brought her vibrant Latin pop to the Paste Studio this week. She performed her latest single, the bubbly “Que Tiene” and the heartbreaking “Si Tu Te Vas,” both from her soon to be announced new album as well as “Vidas Paralelas” from her debut album Mediocre. The new album will be her first since 2014’s No Todo Lo Puedes Dar. —Lizzie Manno

Jonathan Butler

South African singer/songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Butler brought his soulful R&B and jazz fusion to the Paste Studio earlier this week. His silky smooth Stevie Wonder-esque vocals and acoustic-guitar picking is a wonder to witness. Butler has an impressive discography and resume, namely that his first single was the first track by a black artist to be played by white radio stations in the segregated South Africa. That single was a cover of The Drifters’ “Please Stay,” which he recorded when he was just 13 years old, and he opened his Paste session with that same track. He also performed a cover of Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now is Love” from his latest album Close to You. —Lizzie Manno

FEATURES

Remembering Roy Hargrove (1969-2018)

Jazz trumpeter and neo-soul musician Roy Hargrove died on Friday, Nov. 2, in New York City. Hargrove, who had been on dialysis for 13 years, passed away at age 49 due to cardiac arrest as a result of kidney disease. Hargrove was known not only for his work as an energized trumpeter and jazz influencer over the past three decades, but also for his contributions to an early 21st century musical movement called neo-soul, a melding of soul and R&B made popular by artists like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. Hargrove was already famous in the jazz world in the 1990s, but his time playing with the Soulquarians, a collective of musicians including Badu, D’Angelo, Questlove and others who often recorded at the storied Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan, earned him attention as a neo-soul harbinger. After also appearing on Common’s Like Water for Chocolate, Hargrove spearheaded his own mixed-music group project and collective, The RH Factor, who’ve released four studio albums since 1995. Though the Soulquarians and The RH Factor may have been his most far-reaching projects, Hargrove’s Grammy wins are thanks to 2003’s Directions in Music, a supergroup record also featuring pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Michael Brecker that won best jazz instrumental album, and another of his own albums, 1997’s Habana, an experimental afro-funk effort recorded in Cuba that snagged him the award for best Latin jazz performance. —Ellen Johnson

Charles Bradley Reclaims Black Velvet One Final Time

About ten years after he gave his “Black Velvit [sic]” business card to Daptone Records founder Gabe Roth when they first met, the Brooklyn soul singer released his debut full length, No Time for Dreaming under his birth name, Charles Bradley. At the request of Roth and frequent collaborator and producer Tommy Brenneck, Charles, at age 62, shed his Black Velvet—and “James Brown Jr.”—identity in order to create a new and more personal one. Despite all of his subsequent success over the next six or so years, which saw him play the world’s biggest festivals, perform at America’s most beautiful concert halls, hit the Billboard charts, and soundtrack some of TV’s most critically acclaimed shows, he was still Black Velvet in the eyes of his community in Brooklyn, always returning to Essence each Sunday night that he could until to his tragic death in September 2017 following a battle with stomach cancer. Though millions around the world know him as Charles Bradley, Roth, Brenneck, and those at Daptone Records are finally ready to give Black Velvet back to Bradley on a posthumous album, released Nov. 9, just days after what would have been his 70th birthday. —Steven Edelstone

The 15 Chicago Bands You Need to Know in 2018

Originally known for its jazz, blues and gospel music in the first half of the 20th century, Chicago’s music scene is one of the most diverse and historic in the country. Chicago has become synonymous with genres like those as well as house music, punk, alt-rock, hip hop, heavy metal, pop-punk and more. Some of the city’s biggest names throughout the years include Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Wilco, The Jesus Lizard, Veruca Salt and Fall Out Boy. And more recently, Chicago has boasted artists like Chance The Rapper, Whitney, Vic Mensa, Twin Peaks, Rise Against and Smith Westerns. The city’s music scene has also been chronicled by books like Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life and this year, more loosely, with Jessica Hopper’s Night Moves. Festivals like Lollapalooza, Pitchfork Music Festival, Riot Fest and Chicago Blues Festival as well as venues like The Empty Bottle, Lincoln Hall and The Metro continue to draw exciting acts and help keep the city’s flame alive. In celebration of Chicago and as the latest installment of our new band lists, Paste compiled a list of 15 exciting, young bands that hail from the Windy City that you should keep your eye on for this year and beyond. —Lizzie Manno & Justin Kamp

Natalie Prass’s Music Lightens the Load

“I think records should be like a time capsule,” Natalie Prass says. When people listen to her latest, The Future And The Past, decades from now, hoping for some insight into a turbulent time, they might wonder, “Were people in 2018 really happy, or really sad?” As we well know, there’s not a simple answer to that question—nothing about 2018 has felt simple. But with her latest batch of R&B-infused, groove-grounded, light-as-a-feather tunes, Natalie Prass isn’t attempting to answer questions of why everything is so absurd right now. She just wants to help you dance through the chaos. That’s why, following her critically-lauded, self-titled 2015 debut, she swapped out a work-in-progress album of breakup songs for The Future And The Past—a political album that markets joy, a protest record you can groove to. After the 2016 election, Prass couldn’t stay silent, and she couldn’t stay still. —Ellen Johnson

Grapetooth Just Wants to Make You Dance

Grapetooth was not born out of necessity. Talking with Clay Frankel and Chris Bailoni, the wizards behind the Chicago synth-pop upstarts, you get the feeling that the band’s success came as a surprise—that this whole thing sort of happened by accident. Their live show, a doom-dance conquest they’ve dubbed “hyper-disco,” is already a platonic ideal amongst Chicago’s concert-going youth, and the band’s forthcoming self-titled debut, out Nov. 9 on Polyvinyl, is one of the most hotly anticipated releases coming out of the city this year. Their success shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise. Frankel has already achieved fame as guitarist and vocalist of Chicago garage icons Twin Peaks, while Bailoni went to school for audio engineering, and has been producing electronic music under the moniker Home-Sick for years. There’s no doubting their musical chops. But it’s the band’s sound—a uniquely lived-in take on the New Wave and dance music of the 1980’s—that’s a surprise hit, especially amongst the city’s decidedly guitar-focused indie-rock scene. —Justin Kamp

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