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, the Paste music staff returned from SXSW—a wide-ranging, week-long extravaganza that includes one of the world’s best music discovery festivals—and though we had the best time discovering some great new artists, we’re still feeling a bit bleary-eyed. One of our editors, Ellen Johnson, decided to stay on the music festival train and ride it all the way to Boise, Idaho, for Treefort Fest this week—someone give her a medal. This week saw the release of some big singles—Lizzo recorded a song with Missy Elliott, Weyes Blood dropped a song from her forthcoming album Titanic Rising and up-and-coming singer/songwriter JW Ridley unveiled a melancholy new single. Today is also a great day for album releases—particularly Ex Hex’s It’s Real and Sleeper’s The Modern Age. Check out all the best new music from the past week below plus some of our favorite features including SXSW coverage and a look into the music of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.

BEST ALBUMS

Ex Hex: It’s Real

Whoever Mary Timony’s singing to on It’s Real, Ex Hex’s sophomore follow up to 2014’s Rips, they’ve taken her on one dizzying rollercoaster ride. From start to end, It’s Real warps around “you,” more than likely the same person all the way through the record’s track list; Timony sings the same yearning for “you” on the opening song, “Tough Enough,” and on “Good Times,” “Want It to Be True,” all the way to “Talk to Me,” where Timony appeals to her nameless audience to grant her the simple courtesy of a conversation. Following It’s Real’s unifying thread is a complex task. The music, granted, isn’t as complex, in the sense that the music itself requires no moralizing for engagement: It’s great, unqualified awesomeness soaked in ‘80s and ‘90s rock ‘n roll, echoing anyone and everyone from Joan Jett to Sleater-Kinney to Scorpions and even to Tsunami Bomb. But here rests the line of delineation. Folks who don’t appreciate an aesthetic planted firmly in the eras of grunge and Camaro rock likely won’t change their tune on hearing It’s Real’s stomping power-pop stylings (assuming they’re generous enough to give it a shot in the first place). People who read that description as a promise of Good Times, on the other hand, will embrace It’s Real as Ex Hex’s return to the modern day rock ecosystem. —Andy Crump

Sleeper: The Modern Age

Nostalgia’s a funny thing. At times, people actively seek it, hoping to return if only briefly to yesteryear and swaddle themselves in the sense memories of their old days. At times they actively avoid it, or simply act oblivious to it, and yet wander into its embrace all the same. The nostalgic tug toward past favorites is so strong that sometimes, we give in to it without realizing our own nostalgia. That’s the experience of listening to The Modern Age, a decidedly retro album from Britpop band Sleeper, their first after 22 years of radio silence following their 1998 split. It’s the late 2010s. Everything old is new again. Bands ranging from Jump, Little Children to Art Brut have all dropped fresh music after years-long breaks. So Sleeper’s just getting in on everyone else’s action, really, literally getting the band back together to churn out new tracks and bring their sound from the ‘90s to 2019. Frankly, their reunion is welcome. What The Modern Age lacks in durability and ingenuity it makes up for with a fistful of ear worms that burrow straight into the audience’s brain center. The record’s incredibly listenable. For the most part, it’s remarkably upbeat, often cheery, or at least that’s the feeling frontwoman Louise Wener means to convey; “The Sun Also Rises,” “Paradise Waiting,” and “Car into the Sea,” among others, are just as likely to inspire spontaneous dance as they are deep thought, but the former’s effect is stronger than the latter’s. The Modern Age is a record to get down to. Most of all it’s a terrific comeback for a band that rose to fame and flamed out much too quickly. —Andy Crump

BEST TRACKS

Weyes Blood:Movies

Weyes Blood, the experimental soft-rock enchantress known otherwise as Natalie Mering, released the third single from her forthcoming album, Titanic Rising. Titled “Movies,” the new track is accompanied by a self-directed music video, capturing Mering somersaulting about in swathes of rippling ivory before zooming out to reveal the audience watching her underwater dance with a trance-like gaze. The audience studies her, transfixed, before being swept along into Mering’s cinematic submersion. —Lindsay Thomaston

JW Ridley:Homesick (Out The Blue)

South London-based singer/songwriter JW Ridley has released a brand new single, “Homesick (Out The Blue),” following his stellar single from last month, “Glass Eyes.” On “Homesick (Out The Blue),” Ridley contemplates life’s external changes—the seasons, locations, people entering and leaving our lives—and contrasts them with our internal components that may never change. Ridley says of the psychological contrast behind the song, “It’s about the things we hold on to or the things that never really leave us.” It’s the kind of soaring, melancholy alt-pop that makes both the unforgettable nights out with friends and moments of crying yourself to sleep last an eternity. Ridley’s music contains an atmospheric, almost krautrock-like pulse with his spiraling, rhythmic guitar lines and rousing keyboards—and his voice contains the warm, earnest trustworthiness of a best friend or close relative. —Lizzie Manno

Lizzo (feat. Missy Elliott):Tempo

“I’ve been waiting for this one,” quips rapidly rising star and body-posi queen Lizzo at the top of her new collab track alongside rap royalty Missy Elliott. Turns out we’ve been waiting for it all this time, too, and we didn’t even know it. In a pairing of hip-hop dreams come true, Lizzo and Missy Elliott get their freak on for the debut of their infectious new song “Tempo,” released Wednesday. The release was accompanied by a slew of heartfelt posts from Lizzo, who gushed on Twitter that the rapper was her “hero” and “inspiration.” “Tempo,” a club banger saturated with ‘90s beats and self-loving Lizzoisms like “thick thighs save lives,” is another showstopper from the singer’s forthcoming major-label debut album, Cuz I Love You. —Lindsay Thomaston

BEST PERFORMANCES

HNRY FLWR

Brooklyn art rockers HNRY FLWR made the trip over to Davenport, Iowa to record a Daytrotter session this past week. The band describes their synthy, twangy, psychedelic dream-pop as “empathetic slow-motion jangle for the floating philosopher.” Listen to the band perform four tracks—”Stranger (When I’m Done),” “As Above, So Below,” “The Mystery Is” and “Stardust Riviera”—several of which are taken from their 2017 Flowerama EP. —Lizzie Manno

Mike Mains & The Branches

Detroit indie rockers Mike Mains & The Branches popped into the Daytrotter studio to promote the release of their third studio album When We Were in Love, out on April 5 via Tooth and Nail Records. The band performed four tracks of sunny, smooth indie pop—”Live Forever,” “Breathing Underwater,” “Back to Your Heart” and “Around the Corner.” —Lizzie Manno

FEATURES

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Lets You Revisit Mister Rogers’ Uplifting Songs

The world needs good neighbors, and Fred Rogers was one of the kindest. Through his TV programs, Mister Rogers taught generations of children that they were loved. He often used songs to explore topics with his young audience, tackling everything from loneliness to new siblings to safety. And while many of the songs are decades old, they still discuss valuable truths relevant to the world today. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, published yesterday by Quirk Books, collects 75 uplifting songs that Mister Rogers wrote and performed on The Children’s Corner and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Featuring delightful illustrations by Luke Flowers, the collection is the perfect read for young kids as well as the millions of adults who grew up watching Mister Rogers on TV. On what would have been his 91st birthday, we wanted to share one of our favorite songs by Mister Rogers alongside several of Flowers’ beautiful illustrations. — Frannie Jackson

Luck Reunion 2019: Mavis Staples Proves Yet Again She’s Walking Sunshine and We Don’t Deserve Her

Willie Nelson’s ranch is a little bit like Disney World, except with less cotton candy and a lot more marijuana—but just as many attractions. At this year’s Luck Reunion, which happened, as it does annually, smack in the middle of South By Southwest week on Thursday, March 14, cowboys and country fans converged at Nelson’s sprawling property outside Austin in Spicewood, Texas for a day of music, food and merrymaking. The one-day music festival, which was sponsored by Southwest, showcased acts from across the rock, country and Americana spheres including Nathaniel Rateliff, The Marcus King Band, Mountain Man and Austin’s own Shakey Graves. Far removed from the chaos of downtown Austin, Luck Reunion was the gloriously laid-back respite attended by leather-clad roadies and Nashville sceners I didn’t know I needed. The night wound down with a career-honoring performance from Willie Nelson himself. Arguably the best performance of the day, however, was from another national treasure: the one and only Mavis Staples. The legendary gospel singer and activist was all over Austin last week, even delivering one of our favorite performances of the official festival. But she shined extra bright at Luck, where she facilitated another one of her all-star stage parties. —Ellen Johnson

Remembering Andre Williams (1936-2019)

R&B singer Andre Williams, who collaborated with Stevie Wonder and The Temptations among many others, died Sunday, March 17, in Chicago, his label Pravda Records reports. He was 82. Williams died as a result of colon cancer after being diagnosed two weeks ago and following a string of other health issues, his manager Kenn Goodman confirmed to Billboard. “But was committed to trying to sing and record again,” Goodman says. Zephire “Andre” Williams was born Nov. 1, 1936 in Bessemer, Ala. His career began in the early 1950s when he moved to Detroit and situated himself in the city’s hotbed R&B scene, eventually leading him to collaborate with a fledgling Motown Records. His first stint was with Fortune Records, where he sang lead vocals for The Five Dollars (later Andre Williams and the Don Juans) and recorded his biggest hit that also landed him the title “Godfather of Rap,” “Bacon Fat.” —Ellen Johnson

RIP Dick Dale: The Other Father of Surf Music

The Beach Boys may have perfected surf music, but Dick Dale invented it. Dale, who died of heart and kidney failure Saturday at age 81, singlehandedly created the distinctive surf-guitar sound that was echoed by instrumental groups such as the Ventures, Marketts and Surfaris, and that was eventually the foundation for vocal groups such as the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and the Honeys. His influence was felt decades later in the surf-guitar subtext of the Ramones and Green Day. Like the families of so many surf-music pioneers, Dale’s came from somewhere else. The former Richard Monsour was an immigrant twice over—once as part of a Lebanese-American family new to the U.S. and then as a New England ethnic new to the melting-pot culture of Southern California. Like many new arrivals there, more than the kids whose parents had grown up there, Dale was a zealous convert to the vision of the beach as a kind of utopia. Unlike those other newcomers, Dale was able to funnel that vision into the sound of a guitar. —Geoffrey Himes

The 20 Best Acts We Saw at SXSW 2019

Another March, another 2,000 or so bands descending on Austin, Texas, hoping to find a new record deal, a booking agent or just some new fans. Along with assistant music editors Ellen Johnson, Lizzie Manno and writers Adrian Spinelli and Steven Edelstone, I spent the week trying to catch as many of those acts as I could. This was my 15th trip to SXSW but it was the first time here for Ellen, Lizzie and Steven, and it was fun to experience it with them, watching them run around from venue to venue, listening to them excitedly share new discoveries and just, well, trying to keep up. We collectively caught hundreds of acts, while our audio/video team of Brad Wagner and Bob Mallory recorded 26 sessions in our backyard studio. Here, in alphabetical order, are our 20 favorites from the week. —Paste Music Staff

SXSW 2019: The 7 Best Acts We Saw at the British Music Embassy

The British Music Embassy returned to SXSW last week for its 12th year, showcasing some of the best new talent that the British Isles have to offer. This year’s festivities took place on March 10-16 at Austin’s Latitude 30, where dozens of acts performed throughout the week in hopes of penetrating the hearts of the music-hungry festivalgoers. Last year, the British Music Embassy hosted artists like Shame, Superorganism, Idles, Our Girl, Pale Waves, Goat Girl and Nilufer Yanya, all of which went on to release impressive debut LPs. As usual, the brick-walled, 150-capacity venue was peppered with journalists, photographers, music industry folk and BBC radio DJs like Abbie McCarthy, Huw Stephens and Steve Lamacq. Most nights throughout the week were so packed that crowds began to huddle around the venue windows to catch a glimpse of an artist that could become a skyrocketing success. Many of the artists that played this year’s showcase were featured in our list of 15 New British Acts You Need to Know in 2019, and several of them became highlights of the whole festival. Check out Paste’s list of the seven best artists we saw at the 2019 British Music Embassy, listed in alphabetical order. —Lizzie Manno

The 10 Artists We’re Most Excited to See at Treefort Fest 2019

Now in its eighth year, Treefort Music Fest will take over downtown Boise beginning Wednesday, March 20, through Sunday, March 24. More than 400 bands, both emerging and established artists, will invade Idaho’s capital city for a long weekend full of music, food, talks, art installations and more. Fresh off the plane from Austin, Paste will be heading out into the musical wilderness once again to cover all the action in Boise. Here are 10 artists we’re really excited to see. —Ellen Johnson

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