The Week in Music: Paste’s Favorite Songs, Albums, Performances and More

Let's review: Ashley Monroe, Neil Young, Kanye West, Snail Mail, Thundercat, more.

Music Features
The Week in Music: Paste’s Favorite Songs, Albums, Performances and More

This week at Paste, we welcomed Dr. Dog, Lindi Ortega, Ezra Furman, and more great artists to our New York studio, and in the meantime spun the new albums by Ashley Monroe (pictured above) and Speedy Ortiz. We also mused on the strange symbiosis between Kanye West and Donald Trump, dug into the unique history of the pedal-steel guitar, and followed musician Rich Aucoin as he began to bicycle his way across the country for his latest tour. Catch up with Paste’s favorite albums, songs, performances, and feature stories of the past seven days.

Ashley Monroe: Sparrow
Ashley Monroe digs deep on Sparrow after spending some time in therapy to unpack some of the pain of her past. Those shadows stretch over many of the songs, particularly the loss of her father to cancer as a teenager, which inspired the string-soaked opener “Orphan” and the wholehearted direct address “Daddy I Told You.” Through them, you can hear Monroe loosening her tight grip on the pain and letting acceptance rest gently in her palms. Super-producer Dave Cobb supports her by exercising restraint, letting the string sections and some swirling organ lines carry some of the emotional weight while pushing the pangs of sorrow and shivers of memory in Monroe’s voice to the fore. You can read our recent interview with Ashley Monroe here. —Robert Ham

Neil Young: Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s The Night Live
Right after Neil Young and his then-backing band the Santa Monica Flyers wrapped up the sessions that would eventually be shaped into the 1975 album Tonight’s the Night, they were invited to help christen the stage at the Roxy nightclub in L.A. The set on that first night of the club’s reign, captured in all its glory on tape, features the entirety of the songs they’d laid down in those sessions. They are, as you might expect, meatier and with more snap than the recorded versions, yet still lean and taut. There are no extended solos or long, drawn out moments of vamping. The band treats the show like a good club gig: playing their hearts out and encouraging the very vocal audience to join them in the fun. —Robert Ham

Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
Sadie Dupuis and her bandmates have a knack for pairing sugary hooks with chaotic musical accompaniment, resulting in a push-pull effect that is occasionally disorienting and just as often exhilarating. On their first record in three years, dissonant lead guitar careens through opener “Buck Me Off,” as if playing all the right notes in the wrong key, and Dupuis’s catchy melody on “Moving In” floats through a dense wash of spiky guitars and crashing drums. More noisy guitars wander in circles around her voice on “Backslidin’,” and the music lurches so much between stops and starts on “Lean in When I Suffer” that it’s easy to lose track of the melody. The melody is definitely there, though. In fact, for all the band’s efforts to disguise just how catchy these songs are, the melodies more than hold their own. —Eric R. Danton

Snail Mail: ‘Heat Wave’
Baltimore’s Snail Mail have quickly become one of the buzziest acts in indie rock, and the Lindsey Jordan-led quartet shared another preview of their much-anticipated debut album. Jordan shows off her ice-skating chops in the video for “Heat Wave,” the second single from their forthcoming Lush, out June 8 via Matador Records. Jordan was a high school men’s hockey player and she remains an avid roller skater—the “Heat Wave” visual showcases her skills on both the guitar and the ice. Read our interview with Snail Mail here. —Scott Russell

Thundercat: ‘Final Flight’
“Final Fight” shows Thudercat’s (aka bassist Stephen Bruner) diverse musical range as it incorporates a wide range of genres: jazz, R&B, soul, funk, psych and experimental pop. The smooth psych-funk single features his luscious, layered vocals that reach for the high notes with ease, funky wah-wah electric guitar hooks, idiosyncratic synths and oddball percussion. The new single is Thundercat’s first original track since his 2017 critically acclaimed full-length Drunk, which featured Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. —Lizzie Manno

Tank and The Bangas: ‘Smoke.Netflix.Chill’
New Orleans five-piece Tank and The Bangas released the perfect new song for 4/20, “Smoke.Netflix.Chill.” Led by frontwoman Tarriona “Tank” Ball’s smooth lead vocals, the track showcases the group’s unique take on hip-hop, jazz, funk, soul and R&B with poetic lyrics for modern-day listeners. The group released their debut album in 2013 to critical acclaim, and their new single is their first major-label release for U.S. label Verve Forecast. You watch their amazing Paste Studio session right here. —Lizzie Manno

Ezra Furman
The supremely talented singer and songwriter stopped by Paste for a solo performance in support of his latest album, Transangelic Exodus, which he has described as “not a concept record, but almost a novel, or a cluster of stories on a theme, a combination of fiction and a half-true memoir. A personal companion for a paranoid road trip. A queer outlaw saga.”

Dr. Dog
The Philly psych-rockers return with their 10th studio album, Physical Equation, on Friday. Sparser and more introspective than much of their previous work, the album reveals a band intent on doing more with the less, but with all the melodies firmly in place.

Lindi Ortega
The Canadian country star is back with Liberty, a concept record following an unnamed protagonist through heartbreak, revenge and redemption. Equal parts Willie Nelson and Spaghetti Western, the album is a stunner from front to back. (Read our interview with Lindi Ortega here.)

Kanye West and Donald Trump Have Plenty in Common
Kanye West is unraveling—or so it seems. His recent return to Twitter after a nearly year-long absence has turned surreal in the past few weeks, with philosophical musings interspersed with explicit endorsements of President Donald Trump. This week, West called the president his “brother” and declared, “You don’t have to agree with Trump, but the mob can’t make me not love him.” Many are shocked and appalled, but they shouldn’t be. This is exactly what West loves to do—not unlike the president he seems to love so much. —Loren DiBlasi

A Brief History of American Music’s Most Evocative Instrument
It should be no surprise that the steel guitar, an instrument that has been so successful in country music, should be equally effective in many genres. The electrified, table-like pedal steel can produce full guitar chords but also sustain legato lines like a fiddle—only with more fullness of sound. The ease of moving the silver cylinder across its strings enables the musician to play very fast while keeping the notes connected. And those sliding and bending notes give the instrument a vocal quality that allows it to sound as if it were sobbing, wailing or even laughing. Here’s a look at its unlikely path through American music history. —Geoffrey Himes

Meet the Psych-Rocker Who’s Doing an Entire U.S. Tour on His Bicycle
Here I am alone, writing from the desert this tour blog for Paste—one of, or simply the best, American supporter of my music stateside during my career. I’ve so far cycled from Los Angeles on March 28 to Arcosanti, Ariz. This place is an amazing “urban laboratory” and/or the only real-world prototype to Paolo Soleri’s architectural reaction to the problem of urban sprawl—building an urban compound which incorporates and minimizes the destruction to its natural environment and promotes community. The end result is this beautiful isolated artistic community of around 100 people living in what looks like a 1970s brutalist utopian vision of the future. I’ll write a few more of these over the next few months until the tour wraps up June 29 in Brooklyn. —Rich Aucoin

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