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 was peppered with power-pop. Charly Bliss, a band who previously leaned punk-rock, made an invigorated return with a new song that sounds more like pop heaven than lo-fi garage purgatory. And Ex-Hex, the veteran D.C. power-trio, released the second single from their forthcoming album, and it’s a riffy slice of glorious, focused pop. Indie rockers And The Kids brought their own strain of power-pop to the Paste Studio, and The Dandy Warhols delighted us with a noisy new album. So it was a good week for shreddy, bright pop anthems, but that’s not all: We also saw a great performance in our studio from an on-the-rise British songwriter, heard a beautiful new record by Jessica Pratt and started Grammys coverage early with a ranking of the broadcast’s best live performances. Before you get too caught up in the fanfare of Grammys weekend, take a minute to indulge in some of this week’s power-pop—and everything else. Check out the best of it all below.

BEST ALBUMS

Nicola Cruz: Siku

Panpipes for Nicola Cruz aren’t symbols of New Age mysticism or some World Music fetish object. They’re ancestral. The Ecuadorian musician and producer grew up immersed in the indigenous music of the Andes, whose inhabitants have long played a panpipe called the siku. That’s also the title of Cruz’s new album, which mixes the siku with instruments and rhythms from around the globe, along with a dose of electronica, for a sound that is at once timeless and modern. Cruz made Siku piece by piece in different cities while on tour, resulting in a wide-ranging polyglot effect that still contains specific evocations of place. He works with Brazilian singer Castello Branco on “Criançada,” layers of Branco’s vocals floating above a sinuous samba rhythm fleshed out with additional percussion. “Siete” (the seventh track, appropriately enough) is a collaboration with Mauricio, Julio and Pablo Vicencio of the veteran folclórica group Altiplano de Chile, employing sitar and subtle, breathy bansuri flute over a club-ready beat with echoes of reggaeton. For all the musical cross-pollination happening here, what is perhaps most impressive about Siku is how natural and unforced it all sounds. Cruz incorporates instruments and musical traditions from far-flung places in a way that makes them sound like what they ultimately are: distinctive elements of an interconnected whole that are stronger together than apart. —Eric R. Danton

Jessica Pratt: Quiet Signs

The worst assumption you can make going into Jessica Pratt’s Quiet Signs is that there won’t be much there, that minimalism isn’t for you. Knowing the folk singer/songwriter’s aversion to bells and whistles (and taking into consideration the album’s telling title), I myself feared a hollowness, but I was delighted to find the singer/songwriter somehow brings a maximalist energy to a record so subdued you’ll refrain from speaking during its quivering 27 minutes, for fear of disturbing the peace. Quiet Signs is a convincing argument for simplicity. Pratt has a very, very restrained way of supplying strength and relief during our hectic moment. Her songs are so quiet they almost don’t even exist, but maybe that’s how we need to feel for just a moment—like we’re just air. These tracks aren’t immediately satisfactory. They emit tranquility only if you’re willing to devote your full attention—and perhaps repeated listens. In under 30 minutes and in just nine songs, Pratt produces a warm, bewitching alternate dimension—but not the kind you fall into in a nightmare or thriller. The universe she’s fashioned for herself is more paradisal. And if you take a moment to find a quiet space and just sit with this record’s hollow parts, embracing them for the condensed elements they are, you might just find your own slice of heaven.—Ellen Johnson

BEST TRACKS

Ex Hex:Tough Enough

Ex Hex have released the music video for their new song “Tough Enough,” the opening track from their forthcoming album It’s Real, due out March 22 from Merge. The riff-forward DIY sound from the Ex Hex trio in “Tough Enough” finds its match with the video’s fuzzed-out, basement-show setting and apocalyptic conflict. As they riff around its low-scale flash, it’s apparent that the power trio’s ability to utilize the noise around them is the true star of the video. The band explain in a statement that the single is “all about three-dimensional power chords interplaying with whammy dive bombs. It’s a song about turning on your tough switch and forging ahead through whatever storms are happening around you ’cause you have no choice.” — Montana Martin

Charly Bliss:Capacity

Charly Bliss have announced the release of their second full-length album Young Enough, due out May 10 on Barsuk Records. They’ve also shared a video for the album’s lead single “Capacity,” directed by Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast. “Capacity” has all of the band’s signature power-pop sound, but this time it appears to be pointed more towards major-key synths than the punk fervor of their debut record Guppy. The video for “Capacity” depicts the band members as robbers who have a falling out after completing a heist. Adam Kolodny served as director of photography for the video and Zauner edited it. —Adam Weddle

Barrie:Clovers

We included Barrie on our list of 15 New York City bands to know in April 2018, praising their debut single’s “funky bass lines and bongos, reverberating synths, groovy electronic drums, and glossy, blissful pop vocals.” There’s plenty more where that came from on “Clovers,” a waking dream built on a bright, simplistic piano figure, with sparing, spacey guitars and synths, and a gentle, lockstep low end providing a framework for songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Barrie Lindsay’s ethereal (sorry, but they are) vocals. “I know where to go,” she insists in the song’s opening moments, her lyrics growing more impressionistic when the chorus comes: “Clovers in my eyes / the way the light follows all of us on the way home.” Rippling synths come to the forefront in the bridge before that irresistible hook kicks back in—it feels like coming to rest in a field of its titular flowers, eyes to the sky (or the insides of their lids), cares evaporating. —Scott Russell

BEST PERFORMANCES

And The Kids

Northampton, Massachusetts indie-rockers And The Kids are set to release their third full-length album, When This Life is Over, on Feb. 22 via Signature Sounds. To promote the release, they stopped by the Paste Studio this week to perform three tracks from it—”2003,” “Butterfingers” and “No Way Sit Back.” Frontwoman Hannah Mohan’s towering, versatile vocals pervade each of these tracks, complimenting the innate grace and altruism of the band’s ethos. “No Way Sit Back” is a clear album standout and Mohan’s gliding chorus vocals are a life-affirming manifestation of the human spirit. The song takes aim at the heteronormative society and media that keeps LGBTQ voices in the shadows (“The world was never made for us”). Another cut “Butterfingers” centers on a twisting guitar riff and an interstellar synth line as Mohan tries to arouse her own wave of kind-hearted clamor to block out life’s unnecessary racket (“That’s why I sing loud / Hoping we can drown it out”). —Lizzie Manno

Yola

English singer/songwriter Yola is gearing up to release her Dan Auerbach-produced debut album, Walk Through Fire, on Feb. 22, one of our most anticipated albums of the month. She dropped by the Paste Studio this week to preview a few tunes from the record including the singles “Love All Night (Work All Day)” and “Faraway Look,” plus the previously unreleased title track. Watching her session, it’s easy to see why The Black Keys’ Auerbach said “The moment I met Yola I was impressed. Her spirit fills the room, just like her voice…” Yola’s soulful voice is show-stopping. —Ellen Johnson

FEATURES

The 15 Best Songs of January

January is the month that wipes the music slate clean and opens our ears to the first new sounds of the new year. With stellar new albums from Sharon Van Etten, Better Oblivion Community Center, Girlpool, Mike Krol and others already under our belt, this month also featured teases of new albums to come like Lizzo, Hand Habits and Stella Donnelly. Check out our 15 favorite tracks of January 2019 here, listed by release date and as chosen by the Paste Music Staff. —Paste Staff

Vampire Weekend, Deerhunter and The Doors: 10 Times Harpsichord Was Actually Really Cool

When Vampire Weekend announced their comeback album Father of the Bride—finally, after what felt like years of teasing—I could only think about one thing: Will the harpsichord be back, and will it sound really cool? The band fancies the traditionally baroque instrument, which physically resembles a piano but sounds like the inside of Versailles circa 1734. Their impending return, as well as the great new Deerhunter album/harpsichord bonanza Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, got me thinking about my other favorite songs featuring the sound. Here, they’re ranked not by the song as an entity, but rather by the artist’s execution in using the harpsichord on the track. I’ll admit this, like most music writing, is not exactly mathematical, but I hope you’ll enjoy this timely examination of a post-baroque, a subgenre I just invented right now. Happy harping! —Ellen Johnson

The Best-Selling Musical Act from Each State

Curious to learn who’s the most popular band from your home state? From Idaho? From Puerto Rico and Guam? (Google those last two—we’re not heroes.) This list (updated in part from information organized by one dedicated Reddit user in 2017) ranks the highest-selling musical acts from each state according to statistics provided by the Recording Industry Association of America in terms of total units sold. Gold records are equivalent to half a million albums, while platinum ones equate to a million albums. We’re looking at U.S.-only totals (for a global look, here are the best-selling albums of all-time). And we’re defining origin by state of birth or state where a band was formed. As for streaming data — well, that’s another article for another time, sheerly for our sanity here at Paste. —Katie Cameron

Bob Mould: The Sun Shines Through the Apocalypse

The title track to Bob Mould’s new album, Sunshine Rock, opens with his signature guitar sound: that brisk succession of dense, beyond-triad rhythm chords that overlap with long-decay reverb and accumulate into a storm of sound that’s easily heard as a storm of feeling. They may be delivered with percussive force, but threading through them is always a melodic line that reinforces the emotion. It was the sound of 1980s hardcore, which grew out of punk and soon morphed into grunge, a sound that Mould more or less invented for his first trio Hüsker Dü and continued to refine for Sugar and his solo recordings. It was one of the great rhythm-guitar innovations of the rock ’n’ roll era, right up there with those of Chuck Berry, Jimmy Nolen, Keith Richards, Freddie Stone, Roger McGuinn, Nile Rodgers and Johnny Ramone. “Because I started in a three-piece,” Mould says, “I had to learn how to fill out the sound by myself, that Pete Townsend thing of having to play lead and rhythm at the same time, like Richard Thompson. It’s an art form that not a lot of people use today.” And it’s no accident that he’s once again leading a trio, as he did with Hüsker Dü and Sugar. “When it’s time to stand and deliver, the three-piece is a real natural fit for me. When you go see a three-piece there’s no confusion about where the sounds are coming from. If we want to take a song far out and then snap it back to the top of the chorus, nothing’s more reliable than a three-piece.” —Geoffrey Himes

The Best Grammys Performances of All Time

This year’s Grammys broadcast, the 61st, is happening this Sunday, Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PST on CBS, and a team of talented women—including Cardi B, Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monáe and Camilla Cabello—are all slated as both nominees and performers. Alicia Keys is hosting, though it’s still unclear whether or not she’ll actually perform. Keys or no Keys, this year’s planned performances are sure to be attention-grabbers, for better (Janelle Monáe, one of the best live acts of 2018), or worse (Post Malone, but maybe he’ll prove us wrong?). But before we get into this year’s hoopla, let’s take a look back at some of the best, most memorable performances in Grammys history. Unfortunately, Apple Music has the monopoly on most official Recording Academy footage, but thanks to the internet, there’s still a bank of shiny Grammys moments available for the scoping. We’ve gathered the best of those and ranked them here. And don’t forget to follow along with Paste (on the site and on Twitter) this Sunday night as we cover everything Grammys. —Ellen Johnson

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