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 end of the calendar year is looming, but 2018 isn’t through with us yet. December has, so far, brought lots of great new singles, music videos and performances at the Paste and Daytrotter studios. However, album release season is wrapping up, so this week we instead explored some of the great new box sets and reissues that were released in the last few weeks, including Sub Pop’s Fleet Foxes conglomeration and an excellent Jason Molina package. On the new music front, we were treated to stirring new tracks from Amanda Palmer, Cass McCombs and more. Plus, Mothers and Liz Cooper & the Stampede, two on-the-rise bands from Philadelphia and Nashville, respectively, played captivating sessions in our New York City studio. Meanwhile, end-of-the-year list season is in full swing, and we dropped a number of roundups this week summarizing the best of music in 2018. Dig into all of it and more below.

BEST ALBUMS

Fleet Foxes: First Collection: 2006-2009

Long considered among the more influential prime movers in the so-called nu-folk revival of the last decade or so, Fleet Foxes evoked any number of early comparisons when they made their official launch with their full length debut in 2008. Seattle’s Sub Pop Records had the obvious foresight to scoop the band up immediately, launching them with an eponymous LP that quickly turned them into the darlings of those seeking solace through an evocative caress and a wistful gaze. Despite the success that would follow over the next decade, there were certain treasures that were still confined to below-the-surface status, recordings known only to absolute devotees but which remained relatively rare as far as the casual collector was concerned. Sub Pop remedies this with a box set that includes the seminal efforts that sustained their output until the bigger breakthrough achieved with Helplessness Blues in 2011 and 2017’s Crack-Up. The box features the first album and three critical EPs—a self-titled set of early demos, the five song Sun Giant EP and a bonus disc of rarities and B sides, a sufficient find for those who want to snag the first part of the Foxes’ discography in one convenient collection. The b-sides disc is, like most sets of this sort, an interesting collection of odds and sods, but the inclusion of traditional English folk standards, “Silver Dagger” and “False Knight on the Road” offers a true insight into their initial inspiration and the folk finesse they aspired to. A book of photos and lyrics is interesting but offers little in the way of liner notes or a narrative. Still, as part of this tidy package, it ought to help inspire Fleet Foxes fans to dig in deeper. —Lee Zimmerman

Songs: Ohia: Love & Work: The Lioness Sessions

Does anyone else miss Jason Molina with their whole, entire aching heart? Posthumous reissues like this one generally don’t help much in softening that ache, but they do serve as a reminder of Molina’s genius, which is nearly unparalleled in the 21st century songwriters’ canon—he sits on a tall hill next to the Leonard Cohens and Bob Dylans of the world. This box set reissue of The Lioness, released late last month and containing lost songs, liner notes written by Molina’s friends and collaborators and other memorabilia, is a deliberate homage to the late artist’s life and music. The songs from the Lioness sessions, which were recorded just shy of the new millennium and originally released in 2000, capture a moment in his life so rosy with newfound love, you’ll wonder how this wonderstruck Molina is the same one who later tackled burdensome grief as Magnolia Electric Co. But, on the new, never-before-heard outtakes from the Lioness sessions, he is more rooted in life’s ups and downs. He does the work of a priest—blessing love, bestowing wisdom for braving life and making sense of death. The Lioness, as well as these outtakes, showcase a Jason Molina rising. His ability to balance dark themes of doom and despair with the warm but complicated matters of the heart was fully realized on this album. He would go on to write music like this for 13 more years, but, now, five years after his death, that doesn’t seem like a whole lot of time. Molina knew that life was complicated, but his music has a way of making it easier to understand. —Ellen Johnson

BEST TRACKS

Lambchop:The December-ish You

This week, Lampchop shared “The December-ish You,” the first single off their forthcoming album This (is what I wanted to tell you), out Mar. 22, 2019, through Merge. Frontman Kurt Wagner described “The December-ish You” in a statement, saying, “Picture yourself on a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies … This is not that.” The song is a long-form piano meditation that folds in R&B drums and auto-tuned drones in equal measure. Wagner wrote much of the album with Matt McCaughan, the younger brother of Merge co-founder Mac McCaughan. The resultant analogue synth-scapes are the work of the younger McCaughan, with Wagner’s a cappella vocals taking on the same metallic hue. —Justin Kamp

Amanda Palmer:Drowning In The Sound

“Drowning In The Sound,” the first single off Amanda Palmer’s newly announced forthcoming album There Will Be No Intermission, is nearly vaudevillian in its heightened drama, all apocalyptic proclamations and barking cello stabs, while Palmer enunciates her verses like a theater kid who tripped, fell and ended up an end-times cult leader. The song was also fashioned in a crowd-sourced manner—its lyrics are pulled from comments on Palmer’s blog, and many of the comments reference Hurricane Harvey, which had made landfall the day before the song was written. It’s all overwhelmingly desperate and bracing, something that Palmer says exemplifies the style of the album. “Most of these songs were exercises in survival,” she said in a statement. “This isn’t really the record that I was planning to make. But loss and death kept happening in real-time, and these songs became my therapeutic arsenal of tools for making sense of it all.” —Justin Kamp

Cass McCombs:Estrella

Cass McCombs  has shared “Estrella,” the second single off his forthcoming album Tip of the Sphere, out Feb. 8, 2019, through ANTI-. “Estrella” follows lead single “Sleeping Volcanoes,” and shares that song’s sense of a quiet, nimble doom encroaching. “Like pulling down the sea / like plunging into the stars,” McCombs sings, sounding like a stoned soothsayer as he slips in and out of various dialects and tongues. The song was apparently written as a tribute to Latino artist Juan Gabriel, who passed away in 2016. —Justin Kamp

BEST PERFORMANCES

Mothers

“I dabble in a lot of different things,” said Mothers’ Kristine Leschper in an interview with Paste earlier this year. Indeed, Leschper is a creative jack-of-all-trades—a writer, poet, visual artist and musician. The latter hustle, though, is what brought her to the Paste Studio in New York City for the second time, on Monday, Dec. 10. Leschper’s Philly-based band, Mothers, released a great new record, Render Another Ugly Method, on ANTI- Records in September, and, during their session, they played one song from it, ““IT IS A PLEASURE TO BE HERE,”” plus an older tune, “Carina.” —Ellen Johnson

Liz Cooper & the Stampede

Liz Cooper & the Stampede recorded their debut album, Window Flowers, in Nashville in 2016, but it didn’t arrive until this year. Paste’s Robert Ham wrote in his review of the record: ”[Cooper] possesses a bluesy holler that feels like it could cut glass or shake a cheating partner to their core.” Indeed, Window Flowers is a rootsy rollick held in place by Cooper’s reverberating vocals. The band corralled in the Paste Studio on Thursday, Dec.13, and they treated live-streamers to three songs from Window Flowers: “Outer Space,” “Motions” and “Mountain Man.” The “psychedelic” label is absolutely applicable to Cooper’s music—“Outer Space” is a bluesy, hallucinogen-induced trip, an “escape” from “reality” to “Outer Space,” while “Moutain Man” and “Motions” are more of a sonic escape—throughout the set, Cooper and co. break out into Dead-level jam sessions while simultaneously serving up some major grooves, making for a fun stash of tunes you can either dance to or space out to. —Ellen Johnson

FEATURES

ReSlacktions: How Paste Writers Feel About the 2019 Grammy Nominations

Welcome to Paste’s new column, ReSlacktions, where a handful of Paste’s editors and contributors all hop on Slack to argue about the news of the day and give our reactions. For our first edition, we talked about the Grammy nominations and how well they do or don’t represent the previous year in music. The transcript has been edited for clarity, and to save you all from the chaos that ensued when our writers discussed Greta Van Fleet. —Steven Edelstone & Paste Staff

The 20 Best New Artists of 2018

Sometimes you relate to a debut album so intensely you wonder if the band or artist robbed your heart and mind before heading into the studio. Last year, artists like SZA, Sampha and Phoebe Bridgers were the noteworthy thieves—they released slam-dunk albums that engaged with our pathos and our minds alike, leaving us wondering how it was possible that we’d never heard them before. In 2018, the cycle continued. New faces—some of whom had never even dropped a single prior to January—made some of the best records of the year. Some veteran artists, like those in boygenius and Phantastic Ferniture’s Julia Jacklin, assembled new bands and fronted exciting side hustles. Others, like Tierra Whack, seemingly fell out the sky and created art so profound and different and important, we’ll be ruminating on their genius for years to come. Talent is endless. Each year brings a new onslaught of luminaries and thinkers, and 2018—hectic as it was—was no different. These people come from all backgrounds and make music of all styles—from rap to power-pop, folk to art-rock—but they all had something to say in 2018, and they said it well. —Ellen Johnson and Paste Staff

The 10 Best Roots & Blues Albums of 2018

The first rock ’n’ roll records were a kind of hopped-up blues, and the same is usually true of the best rock ’n’ roll records today. Whether it was young white kids such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis following the example of Howlin’ Wolf and Ike Turner at Sun Records in Memphis or young black kids like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley following the example of Wolf and Muddy Waters at Chess Records in Chicago, rock ’n’ roll worked best when it combined the working-class fundamentals of the blues with the upwardly mobile ambitions of refusing all limitations. Ever since, the challenge has always been the same: How do you hold on to those roots, while stretching for new possibilities? Bob Dylan reached for new verbal possibilities and Paul McCartney for new harmonic possibilities, but they never lost contact with the blues, and that’s why their music endures. Those who stretched too far and lost that blues connection (Phil Ochs, Tim Buckley, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues) have proven less enduring. The 2018 albums that are most likely to be remembered in 30 years are those that find ways of duplicating that Dylan/McCartney trick of combining the oldest basics of American music with something new and personal. —Geoffrey Himes

The 20 Best Folk Albums of 2018

Celebrating the 50 best albums of the year always has us comparing music that spans the spectrum. But we also love to dig deeper in particular genres like jazz, blues and folk. And 2018 gave us a wealth of folk/Americana albums to enjoy. From folk icons like Joan Baez and old-timey virtuosos Old Crow Medicine Show to indie folksters like Courtney Marie Andrews and Haley Heynderickx to twangy singer/songwriters like Brandi Carlile and Lori McKenna, the folk and Americana traditions are in good hands. This may be one of the harder categories to define, but it was one of the easier to find worthy albums, so we expanded this edition from 10 to 20. There was just too much good stuff we couldn’t ignore. —Paste Music Staff

2018 in Music: Indie Rock’s Collective Coming-Of-Age Story

In high-school English class, the coming-of-age stories often dealt with cynics, bad moods and the stereotypical toils of adolescence. 2018 was a different kind of coming-of-age story. People under 25 (women, in particular) made some of the year’s best indie-rock albums—and albums in general—and they did it without using a drop of cliche. A New York City three-piece drew us a road map for maneuvering our 20s, Julia Jacklin’s side-hustle band made being an “Uncomfortable Teenager” sound fun and the women of boygenius showed us what it means to rise to indie-rock celebrity—and transcend those “girl rock” labels. 20-year-old Sophie Allison formed a band called Soccer Mommy and blew us all away with her intensity and talent, and Car Seat Headrest found the humanity in a bunch of “Nervous Young Inhumans.” These musicians, and others, deftly captured how it feels to be a young, complex person with feelings, desires and dreams. They gave us a lens for viewing the world through a 22-year-old’s eyes, or even an 18-year-old’s. In a year where young people’s voices were especially amplified, whether it be the students from Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High initiating the Never Again movement to rally for common sense gun laws, or first-time voters showing up to the Midterm polls, it feels especially important that so many of the year’s best albums were made by teenagers and early 20-somethings. —Ellen Johnson

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