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

During the last week of January 2019, we were blessed with many enthralling songs and albums to pull us through the cold weather and these strange times. Paste recommends new albums from psych-rockers Toy and New Wave legend Joe Jackson, new singles from Stella Donnelly, PUP and Better Oblivion Community Center and last but not least, Paste Studio sessions from Indoor Pets and Cory Wong. This week, we also counted down the best albums of the month and the best albums from 1969. On top of all that, we opened the floodgates for entries into our big vinyl giveaway—click here to enter to win a selection of our favorite albums from 2018. Scroll down to check out the best new music and Paste features from the past week.

BEST ALBUMS

Toy: Happy In The Hollow

Toy have always dabbled in the sinister, but the quintet’s fourth album, Happy in the Hollow, is their most wholehearted embrace of ominous murk. If their last LP, Clear Shot, was a moderately dark album, then Happy in the Hollow is near pitch-black with just a small lit torch to navigate through the darkness. While their previous albums leaned on a mix of psychedelia, krautrock and shoegaze, their latest full-length is much more fluid—injecting a bit of wiry post-punk, dialing back some of the indulgent psychedelic pastiches, and underscoring the sublime hooks and melodies that made them such a fascinating group in the first place. Knowingly or not, “Sequence One” provides a sturdy example of the album’s lyrical dynamic (”Smokey sentimental crush / Turns into atomic sludge”). Toy never fully commit to dewy-eyed romance or moody, winding sci-fi and instead, they occupy an arresting lyrical middle ground between the tangible and intangible. Their motorik rhythms, gloomy guitar work and Dougall’s spectral vocals result in a creepy aura while their various synths and keyboards either enhance its hair-raising quality or counteract it with shimmering pop crescendos. Their guitars are often intensely rhythmic and blistering or harrowing and atmospheric, but always with a distinct purpose. Despite not matching the thrilling highs of Clear Shot or their self-titled debut, Toy make a strong case for Happy in the Hollow as their most cohesive and compelling record. —Lizzie Manno

Joe Jackson: Fool

“Long live the jester!” Joe Jackson crows in “Fool,” the title track for his 20th album. Written as Jackson heads into his fourth decade as a career musician, his tongue is as acidic as it ever was, and it’s hard to tell where the comedy ends and the tragedy begins. “Fool” cribs, appropriately, from Twelfth Night’s “The Wind and The Rain,” but adds a sitar and a punk rock snarl, partially howled through a megaphone like a tea-sipping Tom Waits. It’s a telling homage to snarkier catalogue entries like I’m the Man and Look Sharp, but it’s also the most energetic song on the album. It shouldn’t work—is that a tango I hear?—but Jackson has the marvelous ability to fuse genres without ever resorting to the cliched. Similarly, “Fabulously Absolute” has the same discordant punk posturing, more John Lydon than the “Steppin’ Out” songwriter we may recall, but the chorus brings that lovely piano back to the forefront, at least for a moment. The clever rage that put him alongside contemporaries like Elvis Costello and Graham Parker has not mellowed with age, but has sharpened to a dagger-like point, a single bullet directly aimed. It’s easy to fall instantly in love with Jackson’s earlier work, like Night & Day or Body & Soul but Fool is a bit of a commitment. You have to make a dedicated effort to give it a couple of listens; no song immediately jumps out. But like a delicious meal, it’s worth chewing over slowly, savoring what each song brings to the palate, and each listen brings out something new. By the third spin, it will be like an old friend has joined you at dinner. —Libby Cudmore

BEST TRACKS

Stella Donnelly:Lunch

There’s something simultaneously wonderful and woeful about being able to meet up with friends for a fleeting moment. Despite enjoying your time together, you know it won’t last long and something’s changed about them that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s a bittersweet feeling that increases as adulthood marches on, and gets thrown into high gear if you’re a touring musician spending most of your time on the road. Australian singer/songwriter Stella Donnelly explores the consequences of a transitory life on her newly released single “Lunch,” from her debut album Beware of the Dogs. Her voice rises up high and clear, like an Australian version of CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry, as she sings, “You’ve got plots and persuasions and time to explain / But I’ve only got time for lunch / And I get homesick before I go away.” —Clare Martin

PUP:Kids

“Kids,” the lead single from the Canadian punk outfit’s forthcoming album Morbid Stuff, careens in the background with their usual furious energy as PUP find themselves in Toronto in the year 2059. They’re not exactly where you’d expect. Bassist Nestor Chumak is dealing with a resentful daughter, Zack Mykula plays drums on the street for apathetic passersby, guitarist Steve Sladkowski clings onto his youth with an ageless head device and as for vocalist Stefan Babcock—well, you’ll have to watch to find out what happens to him. —Clare Martin

Better Oblivion Community Center:Dylan Thomas

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst unveiled their video for “Dylan Thomas,” the lead single off Better Oblivion Community Center’s self-titled debut, surprise-released last week and set for a physical release on Feb. 22 via Dead Oceans. Sure enough, the Michelle Zauner-directed video finds Bridgers and Oberst showing up to a gig at a swanky establishment—the Better Oblivion Community Center itself—only to find they’ve been booked to perform at what looks like a very genial cult meet-up taking place inside David Lynch’s brain. The musicians and their cultist audience wear blindfolds and VR goggles interchangeably, playing eyeball bingo and doing trust falls, until Bridgers and Oberst come face-to-face with the smirking observer who would appear to be the author of all this oddity. The video ends with the duo doing the only reasonable thing: fleeing the Better Oblivion Community Center without another glance in its direction. —Scott Russell

BEST PERFORMANCES

Indoor Pets

After signing with Wichita Recordings last year—home to Cloud Nothings, American Football and others—British rockers Indoor Pets (previously known as Get Inuit) are currently gearing up to release their debut album, Be Content, out on March 8. Indoor Pets stopped by the Paste Studio to perform stripped-down versions of four songs from their debut LP—“Hi,” “The Mapping of Dandruff,” “Being Strange” and “Teriyaki.” If you missed pop-punk’s golden era or are feeling nostalgic for high-octane, bubblegum pop hooks and angsty lyrics sung in an unbelievable high pitch and dulcet tone, then Indoor Pets are your perfect match. Frontman Jamie Glass packs much more affable personality into his vocal delivery than your average indie rock dude, and his celebration of the weirdo underdog is downright inspiring. —Lizzie Manno

Cory Wong

After an insane live set last September, Paste welcomed Cory Wong of Vulfpeck back into the Paste Studio this week. Wong released his latest solo LP, The Optimist, last year—the follow-up to 2017’s Cory Wong and the Green Screen Band. He performed five songs from his back catalogue—”Welcome 2 Minneapolis,” “Dial Up,” “Juke on Jelly,” “The Optimist” and “Friends at Sea.” Wong also brought in a special guest to join him for the last two numbers—smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz. —Lizzie Manno

FEATURES

The 10 Best Albums of January 2019

2019 has finally delivered its first load of albums, and January has already proved to be a memorable month of releases. We can already foresee several January albums that will be on heavy rotation in the office throughout the remainder of the year, including new LPs from Sharon Van Etten, Pedro The Lion and Better Oblivion Community Center. Sharon Van Etten made her most confident record to date with Remind Me Tomorrow, David Bazan made his first Pedro The Lion record in 15 years with Phoenix and Conor Oberst joined forces with Phoebe Bridgers to form one of the most exciting supergroups in recent memory, Better Oblivion Community Center. —Paste Staff

The Curmudgeon: Two Ways to Write about Music

Elvis Presley was one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, but that wasn’t the only factor in his fame. His slicked-back hair and wiggling pelvis also played a role. The same with the Beatles—they were terrific singers and songwriters, but their mop-top haircuts and irreverent press conferences boosted their success. The same is true of Prince and his ambiguous race/sexuality, of Michael Jackson and his single-gloved moonwalk, and of Beyoncé and her eroticized costumes. Every musician who ever became famous owes some of that success to the music and some to non-musical factors. In cases such as Garth Brooks, Madonna and MC Hammer, one can argue that the non-musical outweighed the musical. This dynamic presents a problem for those of us who write about music: Do we try to explain the fame by describing the musical and non-musical elements on equal footing? Or do we try to explain the music by disentangling it from all other considerations? Are we cultural anthropologists or music critics? —Geoffrey Himes

FIDLAR on Breaking the Punk Mold with Their New Album, Almost Free

If Zac Carper wasn’t abrasively screaming on FIDLAR’s third studio album, Almost Free, you might not dub this “punk.” The celebrated punk musicians don’t care if you think this album chips away at their “punk cred.” Though they haven’t totally discarded their roots, they’ve ventured into untested waters—clearly maturing beyond a party-band origin marked by tracks like “Wake Bake Skate” and “Cheap Beer.” 2019 bookends their first decade as a band and this Los Angeles four-piece has more than just some grazed knees and a hangover to show for years of punk-rock debauchery. Carper suffered from heavy drug use and flirted with death on more than one occasion, but got clean before the release of their 2015 album, Too. Now inching into their thirties and finding themselves increasingly on festival bills crowded with rap and EDM acts, FIDLAR have reached a pivotal fork in the road. The members of FIDLAR have always held wide-ranging music tastes, so rather than ditching punk for new musical trends, they thought it best to retain the energy that makes their live shows so electrifying while taking their new album as an opportunity to spice things up and expand their sonic palette. It may be odd to think that the same band whose early DIY punk gigs were routinely shut down by cops, would eventually put out a record that leans heavily on horns and harmonicas and dabbles in hip-hop and EDM beats. But for a band named after the phrase, “Fuck it dog, Life’s a risk,” maybe this kind of musical leap makes perfect sense. —Lizzie Manno

10 Folk Artists You Need to Know in 2019

These days, the genre “folk” is folkin’ difficult to categorize. When we rounded the up the best folk albums of 2018, the list consisted of veterans (like Laura Veirs and Alela Diane) and newcomers (Tomberlin, Anna St. Louis and Caroline Says) alike. But it seemed the newer faces also brought with them a new swath of sounds: St. Louis could just as well be a country songstress, and Caroline Says is paving her own path with a glossy kind of digital folk. But it’s all “folk” music, at least by today’s standards (or lack thereof). So as we look ahead in 2019, many newcomers to the folk, roots and bluegrass arenas aren’t easily categorized. These artists are bending traditions, experimenting with their instruments and challenging the definition of acoustic music. This year, they’ll release albums on traditionally folk labels and play folk festivals, but they’ll also likely find fans in unlikely places. Because in 2019, folk isn’t just old-time music. It’s not just banjos and knee slaps and fiddles. It’s music made by talented instrumentalists, singer/songwriters and bands who are not content to make boring art. And as the folk tradition goes, many of these artists value political protest and a social conscience, not to mention the magic of collaboration. Maybe it’s not quite a revival, but there’s certainly change stirring in roots music. Here are the people behind the shake-ups, listed in alphabetical order. —Ellen Johnson

The Killers’ Dave Keuning Steps Out on His Own

Picture this uncomfortable situation. You’re in the checkout line of your local wholesale giant Costco, buying some beer, frozen pizza, a Flintstones-huge bag of chips, maybe even one of those $1.49 hot-dog-and-soda lunch deals that are pretty irresistible after a full morning of walking through that minotaur maze. But here’s the snag—hasn’t your membership expired? Didn’t you recently receive a notification to that effect in the mail? And worse, isn’t your bank account running-on-fumes low this week? You couldn’t afford that renewal fee if they hit you with it at the register. But they don’t. The gracious clerk winks and whispers to you that it’s past time to renew, but they’ll let you slide until your next visit. And you walk out happy, sort of, but simultaneously embarrassed and floating in a surreal am-I-In-or-am-I-out limbo. You’re just glad you scored that pizza for dinner tonight. That, in microcosm, is how Dave Keuning has been feeling every single day for the past couple of years. Only without any rewarding mozzarella and pepperoni waiting at the end of the line. The monolithic Costco, of course, standing as a metaphor for the guitarist’s longtime employers, Las Vegas supergroup The Killers. —Tom Lanham

The 30 Best Albums of 1969

We’ve heard that 1969 was when a certain singer/songwriter got his first real six-string at a five-and-dime, but plenty of others were already releasing some damn fine albums. They call it classic rock (and jazz and folk and soul) for a reason. The final gasp of the tumultuous 1960s was an incredible year for music as adventurous albums from the best acts of the ’60s (The Beatles, Dylan, The Stones) collided with those who would dominate the following decade (Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Sly & the Family Stone). Experimentation abounded as genres blended into country-rock, noisy Krautrock, psychedelic funk and jazzy art-rock. We’ve already looked at all the year’s many milestones from The Beatles’ final concert to Woodstock to the disastrous Altamont, and here we look at the albums that shaped the end of a decade. The following list includes iconic albums from iconic artists, wonderfully strange avant garde albums that pushed genre boundaries, and a few underrated gems that we hope will be new discoveries for some of you. —Josh Jackson & Paste Music Staff

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