Each week, our staff consumes a ton of media (like: so much)—everything from the latest Netflix adds to our favorite new indie albums to the game we’ve been meaning to play for a year now. But because we listen and watch so much, we can’t always get to everything. Here, however, editors and writers from across our staff will share their listening recommendations in this column every week. Everything from every era is welcome, be it an album, song, playlist, podcast or some demo tapes your dad’s band recorded in college. This week, our collective playlist features some intriguing new experimental music, the album from your fave new band if you’re a Mandolin Orange/Civil Wars fan and another take on The Strokes’ mysterious shape-shifter of new album (it’s still growing on us!). Now, more than ever, it’s important to share, to truly connect with people in a different way, and one way we can do that is through music. Here’s what our staff is listening to this week: May this music bring you a little dose of joy (or whatever it is you need) during another week in this new isolated world.
Sinister and calming sounds might seem mutually exclusive, but New York City’s Activity beg to differ. The experimental quartet’s debut album, Unmask Whoever, which came out earlier this year via Western Vinyl, delights with its warm psych-pop bluster, but sufficiently would deter me from graveyard listening due to its ominous undercurrents. Its dark, understated melodies and hushed vocals make it feel like a fever dream, but one where you’re weirdly comforted by the surreal, slow-moving confusion. The witchy lead single “Calls Your Name” led me to believe the album would contain 10 songs of nightmarish, sacrificial moods, but it’s actually an outlier in that regard. Unmask Whoever is a beautiful, detailed LP of wonder. —Lizzie Manno
Listening to The Strokes’ latest album has been like catching up with an old friend. It’s a little awkward at first, but you quickly settle back into a familiar patter. Soon, you’re laughing and celebrating and taking deep conversational dives, and it’s like no time has passed. That’s especially relevant for me since the Strokes’ first album landed when I was in high school, and I became a full devotee. Room on Fire didn’t hit as hard when I started college, even though I liked it, and I haven’t kept up with their releases since (primarily because I no longer keep up with any new releases). But The New Abnormal had me intrigued, and the experience has ported me back almost two decades, intermingling memories with feelings from the present. The band’s sound here is both experimental and familiar. Julian’s little comment, “drums please, Fab” makes me smile every time. “At the Door” makes me tear up. It’s been a soulful and retrospective musical journey that (for me at least) exists in two places at once, reinforcing the feeling that right now, time just doesn’t matter. —Allison Keene
It’s not just the pandemic: Times have been tough forever at this point. Sleaford Mods are the preeminent poets of England’s last decade of austerity and Tory rule, delivering an angry and scorchingly funny look into how the working class are being squeezed on all ends by a government and elite who don’t give a shit about them. As vital as the band’s punk/hip-hop hybrid has been over the last 13 years, it’s taken on new power and relevance in just the last two months. The brand new compilation All That Glue is a broad overview of the band’s last seven years, jamming together some of their best-known songs (“Tied Up in Nottz,” “B.H.S.”) with B-sides and other various obscurities. Jason Williamson’s (frequently hilarious) everyman fury and Andrew Fearn’s laser-focused punk loops are timeless but deeply, essentially of their moment—torrents of righteous invective that you can dance to. —Garrett Martin
Look, I’m easy to please. Give me a banjo (bonus points for claw hammer!), a husband-wife harmony and a song about waiting for the “coffee to brew” and I’m happy. And so begins The Yoke is Easy, the Burden Is Full, the peacefully pensive new album from North Carolina old-time group Chatham Rabbits, aka married duo Sarah Osborne McCombie and Austin McCombie. You can certainly hear the echoes of Chatham Rabbits’ predecessors here: Over the Rhine, The Civil Wars, Mandolin Orange and other bands who were/are bound in matrimony as well as music. But Chatham Rabbits’ back-porch ballads land in a lighter and different way—there’s very little production clouding their rushing harmonies, clear as a mountain stream, and crunchy Applachian jams (We named “Oxen” one of the best folk songs of the year so far). The Yoke (which arrived on May 1) is a stable album with few peaks and valleys, but I’ve found its steadiness to be oh-so-very comforting during an otherwise choppy time. That aforementioned first song is album opener “Clean Slate,” a pretty poem about “the innocent youthful glow” of mornings, “the best part of the day.” As a recovering night owl, this is a sentiment I probably wouldn’t have jiived with a couple of years ago. But, today, as I sip coffee with a cool May breeze drifting through the open window, “Clean Slate” sounds like a pretty excellent way to think about the time of day that could be viewed as just another daily reminder of our habitual new tedium. —Ellen Johnson
Just recently it was the 10-year anniversary of one of the best splits in emo: the Tigers Jaw / Balance And Composure split. The two Pennslyvanian emo groups have sounds that sit perfectly aside one another, with Tigers Jaw’s lighthearted, catchy anthems and Balance And Composure’s intense post-hardcore madness. “Rope” is without a doubt one of Balance And Composure’s greatest moments, surging with power as vocalist Jon Simmons howls with his typical aggression. Where Tigers Jaw really shines is on “Jet Alone,” where the brilliant lyricism is at the forefront, so much so that you can barely tell that the song has a mere four lines: “And I want to walk all over you like a floorboard / And I want to lie like a politician / And I want to do those things your friends do / And I want to be just like them.” —Danielle Chelosky
If you’ve been following Paste’s music section this year, you might’ve read about my love affair with the recent Chubby and the Gang album, Speed Kills. After becoming enamored with that record, I began to explore frontman Charlie Manning-Walker’s other musical endeavors, one of which was Boss—the project of Fucked Up drummer (and Chubby and the Gang producer) Jonah Falco and Maxime Smadja (Rixe). The British-based Falco has found himself fully immersed in the local punk and hardcore scenes, and he kickstarted the punk outfit Boss a few years ago. There’s only one seven-inch single to their name, “Steel Box,” backed by “I’m the Dog (You’re the Ball),” but anytime I need a jolt of energy and a wide-eyed smile, I throw on this single, particularly the fun-loving A-side. —Lizzie Manno
What can I say? I’m on an indie folk kick these days. But, to be fair, I’ve been revisiting this particular moment in post-Bright Eyes indie folk history since before updating and re-publishing our list of the genre’s greatest albums. My obsession with this pristine recorded started a few weeks ago, but it shouldn’t have taken me this long. The Decemberists have always been one of those bands that I know I should love—given my taste, admiration for pretty much any woodsy band from the Pacific Northwest and that one time I stood next Jenny Conlee at a Pickathon set—but I’ve always been more of a casual fan and appreciator. I finally properly dove into The King Is Dead this spring to find I was indeed primed to enjoy its every minute, from Colin Meloy’s emo-like caw to the folklore-y subject matter to the surprisingly long list of high-energy moments (“Calamity Song” landed on my running playlist soon thereafter). It was almost too easy for me to fall in love with The King Is Dead, but then again it’s just further proof that all the years I’ve spent admiring The Decemberists from afar were a waste. I’ll never go back! —Ellen Johnson