This week at Paste, the last week of June was a busy one for music fans. Lucinda Williams dropped her collaboration with jazz legend Charles Lloyd; Gorillaz, The Innocence Mission and Florence + The Machine released solid new music; we highlighted some stellar singles from up-and-coming bands; and we debuted Amanda Palmer’s new animated video. In the studio, KT Tunstall covered Tom Petty, and Yonas brought in a brand-new backing band. Check out everything you might have missed below.
The entrancingly beautiful folk-pop that Karen and Don Peris have been releasing for the past three decades under the name The Innocence Mission is a monument to a simpler way. The band’s 11th album, Sun on the Square, starts off lovely and never lets up. Along the way, we get an extended peek into Karen’s evocative wordsmithery, which is heavy with references to the natural world (light of winter, gentle lions, leaves on leaves, darting birds), streaked with color and shot through with an ever-present sense of wonder and exploration. When you scan the lyrics for Sun on the Square, you realize just how often she is posing a question. All told, the album feels like a hand-crafted work of art, put together carefully by its creators, charmingly imperfect but much preferred over a mass-produced piece with no stitch out of place, and no soul to match. —Ben Salmon
The Now Now, the sixth full-length from Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s cartoon band Gorillaz, is the spiritual cousin of 2010’s The Fall, an album that was created entirely on the road, recorded directly into an iPad. This one is a little more fleshed out than that, with many of the songs conceived and demoed in hotel rooms during last year’s Humanz tour but then properly recorded in London’s Studio 13 with the help of current band members James Ford and Remi Kabaka. It rolls along like a travelogue of the journey that Albarn and co. undertook in 2017 through a world that was shaken to its core by some serious political upheaval. In contrast to the lightness of the music—a sleek funk that feels like what songwriters and tech geeks from the ‘80s imagined the future would sound like—the lyrics are paranoid and despairing, sorrowful and confused. —Robert Ham
Amanda Palmer: Pulp Fiction
Amanda Palmer is of course the multi-talented, multi-discipline musician and New York Times bestselling memoirist. We were thrilled to debut her new video directed and stop-motion-animated by acclaimed comic artist David Mack, who provides cover art for the Dark Horse Comics’ adaptation of American Gods, the novel by Palmer’s husband Neil Gaiman. We’ve also got an exhaustive, fly-on-the-wall discussion between the two artists that touches on art, collaboration, context and Palmer’s feelings on American Gods (hint: Neil wasn’t thrilled with her reaction). —Steve Foxe
Lauren Balthrop: Don’t Ever Forget
After serving as a backing vocalist for the likes of Bob Weir, Kevin Morby, Benjamin Booker and Elizabeth & The Catapult, singing in girl-group doo-wop trio The Bandana Splits and performing as Dear Georgiana, Lauren Balthrop is stepping into the spotlight to release her debut album, This Time Around. Balthrop says “Don’t Ever Forget” was inspired by Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” a meditation on the evanescence of joy and its accompanying nostalgia. It’s a steady-moving reverie highlighted by—what else?—Balthrop’s dulcet vocals, which are layered over fuzzed-out electric guitar and bright acoustic strumming. —Scott Russell
Valley Queen: Ride
California psych-rockers Valley Queen have shared the third single from their forthcoming debut album, Supergiant, out July 13 via Roll Call Records. It’s called “Ride,” and if the record’s second single, the hurried “Boiling Water,” is Supergiant’s tipping point, then “Ride” could be its steady incline. “Boiling Water” and the title track are rollercoaster headbangers, but “Ride” takes its time, slowly building feeling and sound until an emotional bridge has been constructed. —Ellen Johnson
KT Tunstall dropped by the Paste Studio in Midtown Manhattan earlier this week on the way to play the Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island in support of Barenaked Ladies. Her three-song set included a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” a song she says continues to be “such a relevant song still for people all over the world who are now galvanizing to stand up for what they believe in, and it’s working. It feels like it’s a really positive moment in time where people power is actually taking effect and changing policies and changing the way people are thinking. ... It’s just such a powerful song.”
Two days before the release of his latest album About Time, New York hip-hop artist and Yonas played three of the songs from the album backed by a brand-new live band based in Nashville.
Nashville singer/songwriter Ben Rector plays three songs from his seventh album, Magic, released earlier this month. Stripped of the synths on the album, Rector’s stripped down versions of the songs—just a 12-string and his voice—sounds like the best coffee-house set you’ll hear this year.
Jazz Icon Charles Lloyd Leads Lucinda Williams into the Marvels Beyond
The 1960s were a time of upheaval in all corners of American culture, not the least in music. Lyricists such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Curtis Mayfield and Lou Reed were revolutionizing songwriting by introducing new subject matter and literary techniques. Instrumentalists such as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans and Charles Lloyd were upending all previous notions of harmony and rhythm. Looking back, it seems strange that these two areas of innovation never merged. That’s what makes the new album, Vanished Garden, such a milestone. The music within represents a true collaboration between the jazz musicians and the singer/songwriter. You can hear the saxophonist and his musicians respond to Williams’ words and melodies, and you can hear the vocalist react to the ever-shifting harmonies and rhythms beneath her. It’s integrated from start to finish. —Geoffrey Himes
Emmylou Harris’ Overlooked Country Opera, The Ballad of Sally Rose
The Ballad of Sally Rose has been largely overlooked for more than 30 years before a re-release this month, but the “country opera” album was pivotal for Emmylou Harris—even if it wasn’t apparent at the time. With vocal contributions throughout from Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, the album helped jumpstart a collaboration the singers had been talking about since the late 1970s. Sally Rose also showed that Harris could be as potent a songwriter as she was an interpreter: she had a hand in writing all 13 tracks on the album, marking the first time since her 1969 debut that Harris had included more than a handful of her own songs on a release. —Eric R. Danton
Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith on the Secrets of Passwords
Some artists are naturally loathe to discuss their work in microscopic detail, lest any telling trade secrets be revealed. Not perpetually-disheveled Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith. At the mere mention of the Los Angeles group’s slightly sinister new sixth set Passwords, he sings like a canary over every last nuance of the jonathan-Wilson-produced set, which opens on two dismal dirges—the Brontosaurus-stomping “Living in the Future” and the abject ode to apathy and ennui, “Stay Down.” And he holds nothing back. —Tom Lanham