Somehow, it appears that the penultimate month of the decade is coming to a close, which means there’s a lot of uncertainty and excitement (but mostly uncertainty) ahead. Plus, Christmas advertisements are in full throttle, and families are getting ready to spar over the upcoming presidential election at the Thanksgiving table. In an effort to numb the fear of a new decade and to relieve the common seasonal depression that visits us during the holidays, let’s take a breather and listen to some of the best new music from the past seven days. Highlights include new albums from Leonard Cohen, Beck and Coldplay, plus impressive new singles from MIIRRORS, Real Lies and Soccer Mommy. This week, we also took some time to revisit the best music videos of the decade and to ruminate over the 2020 Grammy nominations. Scroll down for Paste’s weekly music roundup.
Leonard Cohen: Thanks for the Dance
No one writes songs about sex quite like Leonard Cohen did, which is to say, as an adult. It’s a surprisingly rare distinction, given that sex is such a common subtext in music, but Cohen wasn’t reveling in conquests, degrading his partners or exploiting power dynamics like some emotionally stunted ’80s hair-metal singer compensating for something. Though Cohen could behave like a cad in his real-life relationships, his songs about sex are generally chivalrous in an old-fashioned sense of the word: They’re courtly and mannered, attentive and solicitous, and if they are full of vivid descriptions, they’re rarely explicit. It wasn’t just sex: No one writes about a lot of things the way Cohen did, including spirituality and death. Those subjects also figure into Thanks for the Dance, though the album isn’t as grave and searching as the last few that Cohen released during his lifetime when he explored themes of mortality and asked pointed questions of God. At Cohen’s request, his son, Adam Cohen, assembled Thanks for the Dance from sketches his father had recorded, but didn’t use, for 2016’s You Want It Darker, which came out less than three weeks before Leonard Cohen’s death. Adam Cohen fleshed out the sketches into songs with help from frequent Leonard Cohen collaborators Jennifer Warnes, Sharon Robinson and Javier Mas as well as Adam Cohen’s own friends, including Beck, Daniel Lanois, Damien Rice, Leslie Feist, Bryce Dessner of The National and Richard Reed Perry of Arcade Fire. Whether he’s singing about sex or death, or whatever else, Cohen’s voice remains indispensable. —Eric R. Danton
If you spend much of your time consuming ad-supported video content, chances are you’ve heard Beck’s new song “Saw Lightning” soundtracking commercials for fancy new Beats by Dre headphones. It’s a cool song that brings together some of Beck’s favorite sonic staples: a skittering beat, heavy bass, record scratching and slurred semi-sensical lyrics. The whole thing is even built around a bluesy acoustic slide-guitar lick that recalls the man’s early DIY work from before he was one of rock’s most reliable shapeshifters. Imagine Beck had the idea to update “Loser” for the 21st century, so he brought in Pharrell Williams to give it some oomph and then he sold it to a global tech corporation. That’s “Saw Lightning.” It’s also a Zack Greinke-grade curveball for those anticipating Beck’s new album Hyperspace, his 14th full-length. None of the rest of its songs sound like “Saw Lightning,” which is not necessarily a bad thing—just unexpected. Instead, Hyperspace’s other 10 tracks feel like dispatches from a neon-synth future slightly faded by the yawning melancholy of Beck’s last great album, 2014’s Morning Phase. Beck can avail himself of any songwriting partner or hit-making producer on the planet and chances are the results are going to be extremely easy on the ears and occasionally brilliant. But when he strips everything else away and zeroes in on penning a purely gorgeous song, you can hear the spark that has made him one of the most consistent and creative mainstream artists of the past 25 years. It’s still in there, sometimes you just have to travel through Hyperspace to find it. —Ben Salmon
MIIRRORS: “Gunshot Glitter”
New Chicago group MIIRRORS try to do the impossible: successfully cover Jeff Buckley and give the song the production it always deserved. With Matt Johnson, original Buckley studio and touring drummer in tow (he notably left the band before the Sweetheart the Drunk sessions and now tours with St. Vincent), the band do a very convincing job giving “Gunshot Glitter” the life it never had. Covering Buckley is a near herculean task—Buckley had one of the biggest vocal ranges in music history after all—and MIIRRORS pass with flying colors. But nothing is known about MIIRRORS. This is the band’s first ever single, and outside of a few basic facts, their publicist has kept his mouth extremely zipped up despite my repeated questions. Here’s what we know: “Gunshot Glitter” was recorded at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio and mixed by Brian Deck, and MIIRRORS are set to release more singles starting in January. —Steven Edelstone
Real Lies: “You Were in Love”
London electronic outfit Real Lies unveiled a new single this week, “You Were in Love.” Along with their 2018 one-off releases (“The Checks,” “White Flowers,” “Man of The Land”), this is their first new music since their 2015 debut album Real Life, one of the best alternative-dance records of the past decade. “You Were in Love,” which comes with an accompanying video directed by Charlie Fegan, is a blurry, lovelorn reflection with frontman Kev Kharas reaching into the darkest corners of his psyche, trying to pick up the pieces of a world that’s just been shattered. Kharas has always excelled at channeling the sublime sadness and euphoria of the city in the earliest hours of the morning, and this touching, downtempo track chips away at the facade of an urban utopia. —Lizzie Manno
Soccer Mommy: “yellow is the color of her eyes”
“lucy,” the tense but sparkly five-minute track was one of Soccer Mommy’s darkest yet, finding her confronting her worst impulses in a dance with a shiny-eyed Lucifer. Her newest effort, “yellow is the color of eyes,” kicks everything up a notch—sonically, visually and emotionally. Over seven minutes long, it boasts a visual from Her Smell director Alex Ross Perry (who also recently teamed up with Vivian Girls), plus harp and pedal steel from Mary Lattimore and Brett Resnick, respectively. —Amanda Gersten
THE PASTE PODCAST
The Paste Podcast is hosted by Paste co-founder and editor-in-chief Josh Jackson. The weekly podcast covers music, movies, TV and everything else you can find at PasteMagazine.com.
This week, Robyn Hitchcock stopped by the Paste office in Atlanta to talk to studio chief Andrew Barkau and play us a few songs, including a rendition of Soft Boys’ “I Wanna Destroy You,” which he dedicated to both the American president and the U.K. prime minister.
Also, editor-in-chief Josh Jackson and TV editor Allison Keene discuss the launch of Disney+, especially the new show The Mandalorian and its adorable Baby Yoda.
Emo outfit Oso Oso (aka New Yorker Jade Lilitri) stopped by the Paste Studio in Manhattan to perform songs from their new album Basking in the Glow, out now via Triple Crown Records. Paste’s Ben Salmon wrote, “Basking in the Glow is not only the fulfillment of the promise Lilitri showed on The Yunahon Mixtape, it’s one of the best pop-rock records of 2019.” In this session, Lilitri delivers stripped-down versions of his yearning emo-tinged indie rock. Oso Oso performed three songs, all from Basking in the Glow: “the view,” “a morning song” and “dig.” Lilitri also talks about listening to The Ergs and Against Me! in high school and then getting into bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Weatherbox, The Sidekicks and Hop Along. He also jokes that the Wolfgangs Vault tapes, displayed in the background of the Paste NYC studio, are actually just blackmail. —Lizzie Manno
Following the recent release of their third album, Remembering the Rockets, Philadelphia-based band Strange Ranger came into Paste’s Atlanta HQ to perform four songs. In our full review of Remembering the Rockets, Ben Salmon described Strange Ranger as “a twentysomething indie rock band singing about life at its most mundane (doing the dishes) and its most consequential (having kids in the face of a climate crisis) against a backdrop of easygoing pop-rock.” —Lizzie Manno
The 2020 Grammy nominations were announced Wednesday morning, and, per the usual, the ticket is a mix of pop behemoths, left-field picks and the spare pleasant surprise here and there. Lizzo, a longtime Paste favorite, swooped in with the most nominations of any artist, gathering eight nods ahead of Billie Eilish’s and Lil Nas X’s seven each. It’s hopeful to see a talented young woman, a black woman and a queer black man lead the pack in terms of nominations, but we should still take the Grammys with a grain—nay, a bucket!—of salt. Unlike other awards bodies like the Oscars (and occasionally, the Emmys), the Grammys tend to emphasize works that are commercially successful, not necessarily the works that should be recognized solely for their content. You’ll find all the highlights—and tough looks—from the 2020 nominations. Find the entire list of nominations here, and then tune into the Grammys broadcast on CBS at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, Jan. 26. —Ellen Johnson
The Beths strike precisely the right combination of exhilaration and longing that inhabits all the best indie rock records. The New Zealand band’s impressive 2018 debut album, Future Me Hates Me, which we called “a confessional, shimmering slab of Pacific pop” won them the title of Paste’s Best New Band of last year. Every single song has multiple moments of sunny, hummable bliss, and that’s a credit to lead vocalist and songwriter Elizabeth Stokes who writes stunningly catchy hooks and possesses a self-deprecating sincerity that’s so easy to get behind. The Beths have practically become a mainstay in the American music scene after a couple years of touring, and considering their standout performance at this year’s South By Southwest, these New Zealanders are quickly making an impression. Today (Nov. 21), The Beths are unveiling a new slate of U.S. tour dates for next year, and because we’re dying to hear their new music, Paste also had an exclusive chat with the band to hear how their second album is coming along. We jumped on the phone with Stokes and Pearce who called from their Morningside flat in Auckland to talk about the infamous second album pressure, their studio setup, new songs, touring and more. Read the full Q&A, which has been edited for length and clarity, and check out exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from inside their Auckland studio. —Lizzie Manno
Music videos can often serve as fun, even necessary, additions to a song—almost like a happy bonus. Videos from the 2010s spanned short stories and frivolities, mini docs and visual masterpieces, dance parties and comedic satires. But some of the most memorable music visuals from the 2010s did more than please the eye and prod the mind—many of these videos sparked cultural conversation. Like a good movie, or even an album, music videos have the power to make major waves. If nothing else, music videos force us to hear our favorite music in a new way, perhaps in a way that’s closer to what the artist intended. These 25 videos made us think, laugh and maybe cry, and they’re all visually stunning, opening our eyes to ideas that felt true to the times in which they were made. Here are the best music videos of the decade, as voted by the Paste staff. —Ellen Johnson & Paste Staff
Joni Mitchell sang of “butterscotch” sunshine and a fleeting “rainbow” on “Chelsea Morning,” a song from her 1969 classic Clouds. She didn’t depict the hustle and bustle of New York City, but rather a peaceful a.m. scene—breakfast, oranges, “a song outside my window.” You can’t hear it without longing to slip into a bathrobe, pour a cup of coffee and just nest. Yet, it’s undeniably about New York City. That “song” she mentioned?—“The traffic wrote the words.” “Chelsea Morning” possesses a movement and a light that’s felt in all the best songs about NYC. It’s there in Harry Nilsson’s urban hymn “I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City” as the banjo cracks on. It’s there—in a somber way—in LCD Soundsystem’s lilting, lovely, relatable (if you’ve ever spent considerable time in the city, that is) “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” It’s even there in Taylor Swift’s charged 1989 opener, “Welcome To New York,” the kind of classic awestruck, bright-lights banger the city so often inspires. New York City is infinite, therefore its potential for musical muse is also infinite. As long as NYC stands, people will write songs about it, and 2019 has brought its own share of material. Here are the best songs that mention—or owe their entire heart to—New York City, from this year in particular. The playlist is best enjoyed with a Tompkins Square Bagel, but any carbohydrate will do. —Ellen Johnson