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

Well, here we are at the end of another week of hell. I kid, I kid—it’s really not so bad for low-lying social distancers like myself, but I’d be lying if I said I’m having the time of my life. However you’re choosing to cope with the daily rush of chaos and new horrors, we hope you’re hanging in there. These introductory paragraphs usually end with some zinger along the lines of “At least we still have good music,” and this week is no different: Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield delivered one of the best albums of the year so far in her wonderful Saint Cloud, and Half Waif’s Nandi Rose returned with some paired-down—but no less powerful—musical magic. We heard dynamite new singles from TOPS, Squid and Sarah Jarosz, and this week as a staff, we counted down the best Sufjan Stevens songs and gathered for a virtual re-watch of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Even as it feels like the earth is crumbling into little pieces around us, New Music Friday is here yet again.

BEST ALBUMS

Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud

In 2017, Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfeld quite literally blew the music world away. Her record Out in the Storm, which we named one of the best albums of that year, displayed a whole new side of the singer. Gone were the fortified bedroom pop of 2015’s Ivy Tripp, the rock-tinged freak-folk musings of her 2013 stunner Cerulean Salt and the brainy lo-fi recordings of her 2012 debut American Weekend. Out in the Storm sounds like its title suggests: loud, windy, chaotic and emotionally intense—a tried-and-true breakup album and a throwback to Crutchfield’s punk roots. If Out in the Storm was a tornado of sound and emotion, Saint Cloud, Crutchfield’s fifth album under the Waxahatchee alias (out Friday, March 27 on Merge Records) is the calm that comes afterwards. In some ways, it possesses little pieces of all the musical lives Crutchfield has lived before: punk-y vocals à la her once-upon-a-time rock band with Allison, P.S. Eliot, searing, Dylan-esque vocal delivery, chiming guitars straight off Out in the Storm, pastoral folk not unlike that of her 2018 EP Great Thunder. The songwriting remains impeccable. Within 10 seconds, you know—without a doubt—it’s a Waxahatchee album. Yet, it’s different from anything she’s ever released before. Saint Cloud is Crutchfield’s country/Americana record. It runs on twang, jangle, truth and wide open spaces; on the album cover, Crutchfield, dressed in a billowy baby-blue frock, sprawls across an old Ford truck bearing a license plate from her native Alabama. “Can’t Do Much,” a single released ahead of the record, possesses that old-time lilt and a head-over-heels chorus that sounds like something Lucinda Williams may have spat out on Essence. Saint Cloud is a whole new world. —Ellen Johnson

Half Waif: The Caretaker

Over the course of Half Waif’s discography, Nandi Rose’s music has expanded from bucolic soundscapes into icier portraits. On 2014’s KOTEKAN and 2016’s Probable Depths, Rose’s strings, pianos and powerful mezzo-soprano provided an appropriately plaintive background for her ruminations on distance and personal growth. For 2017’s boxy form/a EP and 2018’s grief-stricken Lavender, she embraced synths that resembled icicles falling onto a patio and shattering—an element previously scattered, but not placed front and center, throughout her work—in service of songs as thoughtfully composed as they were towering and immediate. Rose’s Lavender follow-up The Caretaker is smaller in scale. The album often resembles a reversion to her sparser early work and away from the cavernous jolts of her more recent output. As Rose embraces her craft’s most hermit-like aspects, she consolidates her longtime fascinations with change and disconnectedness into grim portraits of whom she becomes when she doesn’t maintain her closest relationships and properly tend to (the ever-marketable art of) self-care. Understandably, The Caretaker’s stories are often not pretty sights, even if the music always is. On “Blinking Light,” a synth-pop ballad that flows like a gentle stream, Rose describes circling the drain and leaving texts unread, and though the image of a neglectful Rose is bleak, the song’s slow glide toward her belting away her agony is equally somber and invigorating. Throughout “In August,” she looks back despondently on the fallout of a once-strong companionship: “I have lost your friendship / What does that say about me?” As pillowy synths burst into a mournful geyser of sound, the track takes on a rejuvenating air. —Max Freedman

BEST TRACKS

Sarah Jarosz:Johnny

Sarah Jarosz this week announced the release of her new LP, World on the Ground, due out on June 5 via Rounder. The latest from the three-time Grammy Award-winner and member of I’m With Her explores “the tension and inertia of small-town living, the push/pull between the desire for escape and the ease of staying put” in her follow up to her 2016 album, Undercurrent. Jarosz has also shared the single for the melancholy song “Johnny.” “As I was writing this record, it was the deepest I’d ever gone in terms of getting down to the very specific details in the way I told each story,” Jarosz said. “The details are what make people feel something and connect the story to their own lives, and that’s really all I want for my music.” —Isabella DeLeo

TOPS:Direct Sunlight

“Direct Sunlight” is the fourth single soon to be featured on TOPS’ fourth full album, I Feel Alive, following “Colder & Closer,” “Witching Hour” and the album’s title track. The 11-track I Feel Alive, out April 3, follows 2017’s Sugar at the Gate. Its lead singles maintain the group’s synthesis of present indie-rock sensibilities with ‘80s-prom synth-pop stylings, in turn concert-perfect hype and “Montreal Chill.” —Katy Mayfield

Squid:Sludge

“Sludge” arose from a soundcheck while Squid were supporting post-punk legends Wire, and it’s an ever-morphing track with various colorful art-rock sideshows. Its perplexing keyboards mesh with drummer Ollie Judge’s trademark vocal squawks as the band enters spellbinding new territory. “I’m lying on my bed with celebrity chefs / But what do they know,” sings Judge with surreal humor over whirring guitars. It’s quite a paranoid track that bridges the gap between experimental post-punk and electro-shoegaze. —Lizzie Manno

FEATURES

The 20 Best Sufjan Stevens Songs

Sufjan Stevens is hard to pin down. A spiritual songsmith, he has continually found ways to smuggle his faith into secular indie-folk albums for the better part of the last 20 years. He has made one of the best albums of the 2010s in the thoughtful Carrie & Lowell, and one of the best albums of the decade before it in the sprawling Illinois, which really put Sufjan Stevens on the map (both figuratively and literally, as began his marketing spoof to make an album for all 50 states). He has made a film score, a collaborative album about the mysteries of the planets and the universe, an EP in honor of the apocalypse (All Delighted People), a collection of Christian musings (Seven Swans) and two massive Christmas albums, among many other releases. He never ceases to surprise us. Now, the singer/songwriter is back with his stepfather and longtime collaborator Lowell Brams (yes, of Carrie & Lowell fame) for a new album called Aporia, which the pair decided to release early on Tuesday in light of ongoing events (It was originally scheduled to debut this Friday, March 27). A whopping 50% of record sales will go straight to projects benefitting people who have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak, including No Kid Hungry and Partners in Health. To celebrate the arrival of the record and commemorate Stevens’ ever-growing, hearty catalog, we’re counting down our favorite songs by the prolific artist. Without further Adz-do (See what I did there?), here are the 20 best Sufjan Stevens songs. —Ellen Johnson & Paste Staff

10 Relaxing Paste Studio Sessions to Soothe Your Weary Soul

Times are tough, but music remains a balm. People are doing all kinds of things to cope with social distancing right now—virtual happy hours, Zoom birthday parties, frequent FaceTimes with mom. We’re all just figuring it out, and, as it is becoming more clear, we’re actually surrounded by more noise than ever. So maybe you just need some quiet: a few moments to yourself, a walk in the sunshine or 10 minutes of calming, transportive music. If you think the last idea might be for you, look no further. Take your lunch break today with one of our favorite Paste Studio sessions, hand selected to help you calm down and keep it cool during these chaotic days. —Ellen Johnson

Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield Finds a New Kind of Peace

Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud is different from anything she’s ever released before. Saint Cloud is Katie Crutchfield’s country/Americana record. It runs on twang, jangle, truth and wide open spaces; on the album cover, Crutchfield, dressed in a billowy baby-blue frock, sprawls across an old Ford truck bearing a license plate from her native Alabama. “Can’t Do Much,” a single released ahead of the record, possesses that old-time lilt and a head-over-heels chorus that sounds like something Lucinda Williams may have spat out on Essence. Saint Cloud is a whole new world. “It was intentional,” she says of Saint Cloud’s new mood. “It was more of a cause and effect thing. Out in the Storm was obviously written in a very raw state. I was very emotional and needed to make that record as a cathartic experience to heal from something that was painful, and a lot of the choices we made sonically were claustrophobic and intense and there’s so much atmosphere—and there’s no space on the record. And that was all very intentional. But then going on tour, as I was starting to sort of feel further and further away from what that record’s about, that was just not a super sustainable way to play music for me because it was loud and intense and raw. As important as it was for me to make the record, I just knew like, ‘This is cool, but whatever I do next is going to be a very sharp turn in another direction.’”—Ellen Johnson

5 Things We Learned Rewatching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: A Dispatch from Our Staff’s First Virtual Watch Party

While we’re all stuck inside, it seems like socializing would be hard to come by. But, actually, community is around every corner—if you know where to look. One way people are gathering (besides the now-typical Zoom happy hours, virtual birthday parties, etc.) is via Netflix Party, a Google Chrome extension that allows you to watch Netflix content with your friends. Sounds fun, right? We also thought that sounded like a grand ol’ time, so we rounded up the Paste staff and logged onto the chat/video forum for a little virtual party. Netflix obviously has hundreds of thousands of titles to choose from, but one particular film seemed a popular pick among our staff of movies, music, videogame and comic nerds: Edgar Wright’s 2010 cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a spin on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book series and a colorful, energetic superheroes-meet-indie-rock flick that—while some aspects haven’t aged attractively (It was 2010, after all)—remains a helluva fun watch. —Ellen Johnson & Paste Staff

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