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, music fans were rewarded with some of the most exciting new releases of the year so far. Natalie Mering, aka Weyes Blood, released a career-defining LP, Titanic Rising, one of our highest-rated albums of 2019 so far. We also received the highly-anticipated sophomore LP from D.C. rockers Priests, The Seduction of Kansas. In terms of track releases, we heard new singles from Vampire Weekend, The National and Big Thief plus some great under-the-radar cuts from Julie Shapiro, Field Medic and Porridge Radio. On top of that, we had another big week in the Paste Studio with performances from Josh Ritter, Blackberry Smoke and more. Finally, we rounded up our favorite albums and songs from March and had chats with The Drums, The Strumbellas and more. Make sure you subscribe to The Paste Podcast and listen to our latest episode here, where the Paste Music Team discussed the five albums we’re most looking forward to in April. Immerse yourself in the best new music from the past week below.

BEST ALBUMS

Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising

Natalie Mering’s work under the name Weyes Blood feels less like a catalog of music and more like a journey. And each time she releases a full-length album, her destination comes a little more into focus. That’s especially true on her new record Titanic Rising, which finds Mering edging her peculiar psych-folk closer than ever to the sound of traditional pop music. For someone with a documented predilection for idiosyncrasy and experimentation, she sounds completely at ease in these new songs, and ready for bigger things ahead. Folks who know her debut, 2011’s The Outside Room, might be surprised to hear Weyes Blood in 2019, but they shouldn’t be shocked. Even on that lo-fi bundle of echo and noise, you could hear Mering’s gift for haunting melody and the folk form hovering slightly below the surface. Titanic Rising doesn’t feel blissfully adrift. Instead, it feels like Mering knows exactly where she’s going. You can hear it in the robust string sections of album opener “A Lot’s Gonna Change” and the sturdy backbone-beat of “Andromeda” and the sentiments of “Wild Time,” a patient ambler with a ‘70s soft-rock vibe (including a hint of “Landslide”) and a plainspoken bridge: “Everyone’s broken now,” Mering sings, “And no one knows just how we could have all gotten so far from truth.” —Ben Salmon

Priests: The Seduction of Kansas

Saying nothing about the quality of their fierce full-length debut Nothing Feels Natural, Priests are capable of much more than they let on in 2017. Prior to this release, they were making perfectly good—if not great—highly enjoyable punk rock (especially if you’re already primed to enjoy that sort of thing). They were hailed harbingers of a new post-punk wave radiating from Washington D.C.’s storied scene. But The Seduction of Kansas exists in a genre-less vacuum. You don’t need to be a punk fan to enjoy this record. Like shoegaze? Metal? Pop? Indie rock? Come hither. On their second studio album, Priests prove themselves to be highly intellectual and creative songsmiths, drawing on not only their D.C. punk roots but also some adventurous pop sensibilities, all while serving up searing, sage commentary on Middle American ideals. The Seduction of Kansas is full of tantalizing tales fraught with disturbed characters, some of whom seem far removed from reality, while others are scarily reminiscent of humanity. —Ellen Johnson

BEST TRACKS

Julia Shapiro:Natural

Julia Shapiro, best known as part of Seattle outfits Chastity Belt, CHILDBIRTH and the supergroup Who Is She? (with Robin Edwards of Lisa Prank and Bree McKenna of Tacocat), is setting off on her own come June 14 with her debut solo album Perfect Version. This week, Shapiro released “Natural,” the lead single exploring the nature of true self-love, tinged with a summery sorrow akin to Snail Mail’s Lush. Fans of Chastity Belt will enjoy the familiar, restless jangle-pop sounds on “Natural,” harking back to Shapiro’s work on their celebrated 2017 album I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone. —Clare Martin

Field Medic:The Bottle’s My Lover, She’s Just My Friend

Kevin Patrick, aka Field Medic, has released another new single from his forthcoming album Fade Into the Dawn, this one affectionately titled “The Bottle’s My Lover, She’s Just My Friend.” Patrick recalls of the song’s tumultuous conception, “I was sort of seeing somebody and was reflecting on how more times than not they would ask me to come hang out or do something and I would decline under the pretense of being busy, but wind up drinking alone in my room … Maybe making art, but mostly just drinking for the sake of getting drunk.” —Montana Martin

Porridge Radio:Give/Take

Brighton via London four-piece Porridge Radio shared their first new music since their 2016 debut LP Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers. “Give/Take” is the kind of poignant, lo-fi guitar pop that makes bedroom pop doubters look silly. Alongside bittersweet ’80s synths and a subtle, silvery bass line, Dana Margolin’s heart-rending vocals yearn with believable affection as she sings of the warring mindsets that make life so confusing, yet visceral. With all the cynicism in today’s cultural and political discourse, sometimes earnest conviction is the best medicine, and “Give/Take” is the type of chaotic good that’s worth celebrating. —Lizzie Manno

BEST PERFORMANCES

Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter  is set to follow his 2017 album Gathering with his new record Fever Breaks, one of the releases we’re most looking forward to in April. We’ve already heard two songs from Fever Breaks, bluesy lead single “Old Black Magic” and the more gentle “I Still Love You (Now and Then).” Earlier this week, Ritter shared three more unreleased Fever Breaks tunes with the world in the Paste Studio. Watch Ritter, along with guitarist Josh Kaufman, perform “All Some Kind of Dream,” “Losing Battles” and “Blazing Highway Home,” plus the aforementioned “Old Black Magic.” —Ellen Johnson

Blackberry Smoke

Last October, Blackberry Smoke released an acoustic EP The Southern Ground Sessions, created as an accompaniment to their 2018 full-length Find A Light. The EP was recorded live at Southern Ground studio in Nashville, Tenn. and features acoustic versions of five album tracks as well as a rendition of Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky” featuring Amanda Shires. Watch the band perform three songs from their acoustic EP—”Best Seat in the House,” “Run Away From It All” and “Let Me Down Easy.” —Lizzie Manno

FEATURES

Two New Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Biographies Trace the Band’s Fractious History

Graham Nash was on a helicopter with drummer Dallas Taylor flying into Bethel, N.Y., where their band was scheduled to perform at a festival. As they neared their destination, Taylor asked what lake they were flying over. It wasn’t water, the pilot replied. It was the audience. The gig was Woodstock. The band was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The gathering on Max Yasgur’s farm would be their second-ever live performance, after recently solidifying a touring lineup with Neil Young, Taylor and bassist Greg Reeves. The weekend would prove to be a high point for the counterculture that Woodstock quickly came to represent—and for Crosby, Stills, Nash & (sometimes) Young, the ensemble that was in some ways the house band for the Woodstock generation. “Their music and their image became indissolubly linked with the fate of the baby-boomer era,” music historian Peter Doggett writes in CSNY, one of two engaging biographies released this week tracing the band’s fractious history. The other is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young by David Browne, a senior writer for Rolling Stone. —Eric R. Danton

The Cinematic Orchestra Find A Reason To Believe

Jason Swinscoe and his musical partner Dominic Smith, the braintrust behind the jazz-inspired electronic project The Cinematic Orchestra, didn’t intend to take the better part of 12 years to release the follow up to their last album Ma Fleur. But as they got in the cycle of touring and working on commissions like the soundtrack to the Disney nature film The Crimson Wing and finding themselves relocating to various spots around the globe, the interim became longer and more fraught. To the point that when Swinscoe wanted to map out ideas for a new album, he got stuck and quickly reached out to Smith for assistance. Together, the pair built the suite of songs that make up their new album To Believe from the ground up, going back, as Smith mentions in our conversation, to the spirit of the first Cinematic Orchestra release that Swinscoe did on his own on nights and weekends. Paste spent some time on the phone with Smith from his home in Los Angeles to talk about the creation of To Believe and the themes of the album, as well as looking back for a moment to when The Cinematic Orchestra began in the late ‘90s. —Robert Ham

The Strumbellas: Songs of Hope in a Dark Time

In this time of division and rancor, songs of community and hope are needed more than ever. But such songs are useful only if they can persuade us to trust their message. And that’s one of the hardest tricks to pull off in pop music. In fact, any hint of sappy sentiment or formulaic bromides is likely to create mistrust and produce more pessimism than optimism. That’s why the Strumbellas are the right band at the right time. The Ontario sextet’s new album Rattlesnake boasts the kind of anthemic choruses that can rouse an audience from its seats to dance in place and sing along. The stimulus is not so much the positive lyrics—which are easy to write—but rather the magnetic melodies, which are so difficult to come up with. That knack for melodic hooks is the most elusive talent in popular music, but lead singer/chief songwriter Simon Ward has it. —Geoffrey Himes

Thom Zimny, Johnny Cash and the New Music Documentary

Over the past two years, Thom Zimny has become the leading director of music documentaries. Early last year he directed the two-part Elvis Presley: The Searcher, which played several film festivals before landing on the HBO menu. At the end of last year, Zimny’s Springsteen on Broadway was added to the Netflix offerings the day after the singer’s 14-month, one-man show in New York’s theatre district closed. And last month Zimny’s The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash premiered at South by Southwest’s Film Festival. All three are superb portraits of iconic performers. The subject matter is important, obviously, but it’s Zimny’s treatment of it that sets these pictures apart. Springsteen on Broadway was a straightforward documentation of one self-contained performance, and while it does its job with admirable clarity and undistracted focus, it doesn’t reflect Zimny’s emerging style as much as the Presley and Cash movies do. The latter two films introduce some welcome changes into the music documentary. —Geoffrey Himes

The Drums’ Jonny Pierce Channels Purposeful Angst on Brutalism

The Drums are a band with an unusual career trajectory. The New York City outfit were hailed as indie-pop saviors at the start of the decade and with every subsequent album, an original band member departed the fold. The Drums’ last album—2017’s Abysmal Thoughts—was essentially a solo album for frontman Jonny Pierce, as he found himself the sole member of the band after the exit of close friend and co-songwriter Jacob Graham in 2016. Somehow through all the lineup changes, pressures that come with being a media-hyped buzz band and a few albums that diverted from their best-known pop sensibilities, The Drums have remained relevant and still boast a devoted fanbase. They managed to prevent the unwavering rumble of similarly sad indie pop newcomers from drowning out the beat of The Drums. Perhaps it’s not in spite of these newbies, but rather, this recent crop of anxiety-ridden guitar bands and an infinite number of sad teenagers have contributed to The Drums’ continued relevance. Regardless, The Drums’ fifth album Brutalism, sees Jonny Pierce at his most lyrically honest and musically jarring. —Lizzie Manno

The Best Songs of March 2019

Whether it was powerhouse artists like Solange or Sky Ferreira, sprouting singer/songwriters like Christian Lee Hutson or Kate Teague or perpetual noise makers like Black Midi and FURY, musicians brought their A game when it came to March track releases. Check out our 15 favorite tracks of March 2019, listed by release date and as chosen by the Paste Music Staff. —Paste Staff

The 10 Best Albums of March 2019

Spring has finally sprung, and the albums that soundtracked the start of allergy season, St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness and more have filled us with a familiar joy. The month of March saw the release of career milestone records from indie rock stalwart Jenny Lewis and newly-reunited Britpop band Sleeper. March also saw the release of impressive debuts from U.K. upstarts Nilüfer Yanya and Indoor Pets, plus some warm folk via Y La Bamba and bluegrass from Tim O’Brien. Dive into Paste’s 10 favorite albums from March. —Paste Staff

The 10 Albums We’re Most Excited About in April

It may have just been April Fool’s Day, but the upcoming month’s release schedule is no laughing matter (except in the case of L.A. band Wand, who are actually releasing an album called Laughing Matter). The list of records we’re excitedly anticipating is otherwise stacked: a new album from Glen Hansard, a sweeping masterwork from Weyes Blood and the highly anticipated new record from Lizzo, plus the returns of Josh Ritter, The Mountain Goats and Kevin Morby, all in the same month! They might need to reschedule Easter—we’re not sure if there’s enough time. Hunt down some jellybeans and read about the albums we’re most excited to hear in April, listed by release date. And keep an eye out for separate coverage pertaining to releases arriving on Record Store Day, happening April 13. —Paste Staff

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