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

It’s safe to say February is one of the least-favorable months. It’s sludgy, icy and gray, winter’s last dreary hold-out. Thankfully, it’s also the shortest month, which means it has come and (almost) gone in what feels like an instant. But while its days were cloudy and gloomy, the month’s new music was at times decidedly chipper. This week, Bob Mould treated us to cheerily defiant rays of Sunshine Rock, and an all-smiles, white-suit-clad Robert Ellis hauled a piano up to our New York City studio and played a round of upbeat piano-pop songs. We also got a stunning new album from Julia Jacklin, catchy single from rapper Tierra Whack and a studio set from Wallows. Dig into all of that and more below.

BEST ALBUMS

Julia Jacklin: Crushing

Autonomy can be damn frightening. The realization—the one arriving after a breakup, before a solo move, following a graduation, etc.—that you’re actually in this thing alone and only you are in the driver’s seat can leave you feeling scared silly. Or it can leave you feeling high on independence. Julia Jacklin’s Crushing is a striking search for self, a call to upend that which tethers you down. But it’s also rooted, deeply, in a sense of calm. The Aussie songwriter’s ability to process emotion is out-of-this-world sharp, and this album is her best, most piercing work to date. Crushing can change from melodic balladry to anthemic rock at the drop of a hat. And for its entirety, Jacklin, slowly gaining cred as one of the most underrated singer/songwriters working, basks in a newfound clarity. Crushing is the brave story of a woman—and an artist —coming into her own. Securing that agency, however, was no walk in the park. Jacklin clearly had to sort through mountains of wreckage to arrive here, but the album’s autobiographical nature is what makes it so affecting. Jacklin said, in writing it, she realized “how not very special” she is (evident in “Body,” as she sings, “It’s just my body / I guess it’s just my life”). But in recognizing the non-exclusivity of her experiences, she made something singular. —Ellen Johnson

Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock

What good did we, as a society, do to deserve Bob Mould? He is a Good and Pure genius, who touches down every so often and blesses us with a new album—in this case, Sunshine Rock—before going back to whatever loud and magical land he occupies. He is like a favorite uncle, occasionally forgotten in the daily grind but always welcomed with a sense of “Why am I not listening to this every single day?” Mould doesn’t waste any time getting right to the title track, and it’s an aching love song in the vein of Sugar’s “Your Favorite Thing.” Mould’s guitar pounds like a heart wrapped in barb wire, offering, pleading for the object of his affection to come away on an adventure. Mould is at his best when he’s begging, making you wonder who could possibly say no to the promise “I’ll be your astronaut.” Mould is the man we need right now. Sunshine Rock is bitter and hopeful, full of rage and promise. It’s an album that defines a moment in all its ugliness and the rare moments of beauty that we have to keep fighting for. “You can’t predict the future, you can’t forget the past,” he sings on “Camp Sunshine.” So maybe we can’t go back there. But we can make our own sunshine in our own little corners. We can all be someone’s astronaut. —Libby Cudmore

BEST TRACKS

Aldous Harding:The Barrel

New Zealander singer-songwriter Aldous Harding has announced her third album, Designer, due April 26 on 4AD. Lovely lead single “The Barrel” launched Tuesday, accompanied by a puzzler of a music video. The quietly off-kilter clip, co-directed by Martin Sagadin and Harding herself, finds the artist singing her new song in an unusual outfit and environment; she dances in place behind a Mona Lisa smile, dressed like a witchy pilgrim throwing a one-woman party in the world’s biggest blanket fort. The clip has a trick or two up its sleeve, though, so you’ll want to see it through—the payoff takes the video’s unsettling charm up a notch. —Scott Russell

Buck Meek:Halo Light

Songwriter and guitarist Buck Meek has released his first bit of new music since putting out his self-titled solo debut on Keeled Scales last year. The song, titled “Halo Light,” is a sweet, folky rumination on eternal love and loss that finds Meek moving in a softer, more contemplative direction, recalling the slow, measured cadence of early Leonard Cohen and the pastoral quality of Harvest-era Neil Young. Before releasing his debut album last year, Meek put out a solo EP in 2015 called Heart Was Beat. He is also the lead guitarist and backup vocalist in Big Thief, and he released a pair of collaborative records with bandmate Adrianne Lenker in 2014 titled a-sides and b-sides. —Adam Weddle

Tierra Whack:Only Child

Tierra Whack has released a new track titled “Only Child” in collaboration with Apple Music’s emerging artist program, Up Next. The standalone track follows the release of the “full-length” audiovisual album—one of Paste’s favorite rap albums of last year—Whack World, which clocked in at a compact 15 minutes. As for what’s next for the breakout Philadelphia rap artist, Whack told Apple Music, “Being a female in music I just, I want everybody to, all the women to come in, and we huddle up and we work together and we help each other. You know, I’m willing to dim my light so that somebody else can shine because we all have to find our inner lights, and shine in one world.” Listen to the contagious “Only Child” below, as many times as the day will allow. —Montana Martin

Matthew Logan Vasquez:Vacation

Former Delta Spirit frontman Matthew Logan Vasquez stopped by our studios this week, just before the release of his new LP, LIGNT’N UP, out today. Today also marks the release of his video for “Vacation,” which he says, “is about certain ironies in my life. First that I travel the world for work, and save all my money so that I can stay home.” Vasquez recently moved with his family to Oslo, Norway, in the wake of his father-in-law’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and spends most of his time on road. The video was directed by Michael Parks Randa, who used locals throughout his hometown of Sherborn, Mass.—from school kids to firemen and construction workers—to bring the old-school rock song to life. —Josh Jackson

BEST PERFORMANCES

Wallows

After performing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday, Los Angeles rock trio Wallows stopped by the Paste Studio in New York City to promote their forthcoming LP. Their highly-anticipated debut album, Nothing Matters, will be out on March 22 via Atlantic Records. Wallows played stripped-down versions of four songs, opening with “These Days” from their 2018 EP Spring. Then, they broke into the album track “Scrawny,” which is the first time it’s been performed live. The members of the band later discussed their love of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, working with producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Alvvays) on their new album (“John loves fucked up shit!”) and balancing music with acting. Both Dylan Minnette and Braeden Lemasters have played high-profile TV and movie roles (Minnette most notably on 13 Reasons Why and Lemasters on Men of a Certain Age). The band closed with a bubbly rendition of “Drunk on Halloween” and a spunky performance of the lead single “Are You Bored Yet?” (which features Clairo on the studio version). —Lizzie Manno

Robert Ellis

Robert Ellis  is the one and only “Texas Piano Man,” and he’s got the suit to prove it. Appearing suave as ever in an all-white getup and cowboy hat, the fast-talking Texan troubadour arrived at the Paste Studio in New York City on Wednesday (Feb. 20) with a piano he hauled through a snowstorm and up to the seventh floor of the Manhattan Center in two separate pieces, marking the first time acoustic keys have appeared in our tape room. “We got a rental car that it doesn’t quite fit in, so we have to leave one of the windows open,” Ellis said before his set. He then proceeded to sit at said portable piano and play four songs from his great new album, Texas Piano Man: the cheeky “Passive Aggressive,” longing ballad “When You’re Away,” nostalgic jam “Nobody Smokes Anymore” and roundabout love song “Fucking Crazy.” —Ellen Johnson

FEATURES

Twerps’ Martin Frawley Came Undone. On His New Solo Album, He Puts Himself Back Together

Martin Frawley doesn’t leave much up to interpretation on his new album. Even the title, Undone at 31, is about as unambiguous as they come. “I didn’t want to hide anything,” Frawley says, calling from his hometown, Melbourne, Australia, where a heat wave is currently causing everyone to swelter. It’s 41 degrees celsius (105 degrees fahrenheit) there to our 35 here in Atlanta, where Frawley recalls making a tour stop years ago, to play a show “at that place that you can smoke cigarettes in” (what we later determine was smoky local club The Earl). During our conversation, Frawley sounds like he’s running errands, but he’s so readily honest and eager to air it all, it feels more like sitting down for a beer. Listening to the record feels much the same—while chaotic at times, it’s graciously candid. “I just wanted to let it all out,” Frawley says. “And I made that record for someone, so I wanted them to know all of it. And handy enough that it was my 31st year. That worked out.” —Ellen Johnson

Americana Artist Yola Talks New Album And Finding Her Creative ‘Flow State’

At last year’s AmericanaFest in Nashville, a few artists managed to stand out, but none stood taller than U.K. singer-songwriter known simply as Yola. The 36-year-old’s mere presence—the rare Black artist amid the otherwise pale skinned world of roots music—would have been enough to at least train one’s ear in her direction. But Yola’s performances were nothing short of revelatory, a conjoining of American musical interests (country, blues, soul, pop) warped by years of personal turmoil and bursting free via her sturdy, resolute vocal performances. Her debut full-length Through The Fire only solidifies Yola’s position as a talent of rare vintage. Recorded with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys at his studio in Nashville with a crack team of backing musicians, including former Johnny Cash bassist Dave Roe, legendary session pianist Bobby Wood and a guest spot from Vince Gill, the album is steeped in woozy country (the dusty title track), hip-swinging ‘60s R&B à la Dusty Springfield (“Still Gone,” “Ride Out in the Country”) and the peaceful, easy feeling that can arrive when trying to meld those two aesthetics. We caught up with Yola to talk about her musical upbringing, working with Auerbach and the unexpected moments when inspiration strikes. —Robert Ham

One Author’s Heartwarming Journey with A Tribe Called Quest

Hanif Abdurraqib’s relationship with A Tribe Called Quest is one that avid music fans will recognize in an instant. Apart from his credentials as a bona fide Tribe fan, Abdurraqib is an accomplished author, poet and music critic. His criticism has been published by the New York Times, MTV News and other outlets, and his recent long-form published works include a poetry collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, and an essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (which made Paste’s list of 20 Best Nonfiction Books of 2017). Instead of writing a traditional music biography or memoir, the Columbus, Ohio native decided to take readers through a unique journey that blurs the line between fandom and criticism. Abdurraqib loves A Tribe Called Quest in such a holistic and whole-hearted manner—he grew up with Tribe and associates important moments of his life with the legendary group’s music. His new book and New York Times best-seller, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest, is a poetic salute to what Abdurraqib considers to be the greatest rap group of all-time. —Lizzie Manno

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