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

Last week, we were finally able to exhale after dropping our list of 50 Best Albums of 2018. We hope you had as much fun reading about and digging into records from the past year as each of our writers did voting and agonizing over the ranking and inclusion of each of those records. This week saw the arrival of that list’s close companion (The 50 Best Songs of 2018), its distant cousin (Paste Readers’ Favorite Albums of 2018) and its finger-snapping, fedora-wearing uncle (The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2018). We also dug into next year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees and talked to Julien Baker and members of The National, The Hold Steady and more about the legacy Scott Hutchison. If that wasn’t enough, we heard standout new tracks from Toro y Moi and Yak, and hosted knockout Paste Studio sessions—one with an exciting newcomer and another with a veteran band. Check out our favorite albums, tracks, live sessions and features from the past week below.

BEST ALBUMS

Van Morrison: The Prophet Speaks

No doubt about it: Van Morrison is on a roll. Following a spate of recent albums released this year and last—Roll With the Punches, Versatile and You’re Driving Me Crazy, the latter of which was released barely seven months ago—Van the Man has been revisiting his roots with set after set of jumping jazz, blustery blues and classic R&B standards. With his gruff vocals and natural sway, the so-called Belfast Cowboy revisited the music with an authenticity and eagerness that’s never deserted him throughout his 50 plus year career. Here again, his enthusiasm is infectious, from the effusive shout-out of “Got To Go Where the Love Is,” one of half a dozen songs Morrison contributes to this 14 song set, to the easy, seemingly effortless swing and sass of “Dimples,” “Laughin’ and Clownin’” and “Greenwich Mean Time.” Clearly Van’s still got his groove, and his devotion to form is evident throughout. Indeed, his effortless sway on “I Love the Life I Live” seems to bear out the sentiments expressed in the title. The Prophet Speaks becomes a matter of his own personal preference. The rural backwoods Morrison of Tupelo Honey, Morrison, the celestial traveler of Astral Weeks and Morrison, the Celtic crooner that shared his ancient hymns throughout the ‘80s have clearly succumbed to his new persona as a timeless troubadour of a distinctly vintage variety. The prophet is speaking loud and clear and letting us know, he’s happy with the place where he’s arrived. —Lee Zimmerman

The 1975: A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships

There’s a scene in 30 Rock where Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) is trying to write a Grammy-cinching song, combining the world’s most popular genres into one headache of a song. Stretch that song into an album and you have The 1975’s A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. There is so much good here, but there’s also just so. much. “Be My Mistake” is the album’s standout. Sandwiched between “Love If We Made It” and “Sincerity is Scary,” it’s a gorgeous little track, stripped of the bubble-wrap pop sensibilities and the buttery-slick robot vocals. It’s lonely and it’s heartbreaking and it’s beautiful¸ a little gem in a wasteland of what sounds like sneaker commercials (“I Like America America Likes Me”), songs in wait of a Pixar-knockoff dance party sequence (“TooTimeTooTimeTooTime”) and one very weird track that Jonathan Colton must have traded for some magic beans (“The Man Who Married a Robot”). “Give Yourself a Try” has a fabulous ball of a beat that bounces between your ears, with Matty Healy’s nasally vocals painting an melancholic picture of a misspent adulthood reminiscent of MGMT’s “Time To Pretend.” And “TooTimeTooTimeTooTime” is hypnotic enough to lure even the shyest wallflower out onto the dance floor. For good or for ill, The 1975 have mastered the 2018 sound—a hyper-sweet confectionary of computer rhythms and dance beats and electro-breath echoes that is the hallmark of far too many albums. But underneath the puffy synthetics, they’ve also proven themselves capable of real rawness, an album for the good times as well as the tough. —Libby Cudmore

BEST TRACKS

Sofia Bolt:Get Out Of My Head

Sofia Bolt is the moniker of French musician Amélie Rousseaux and after relocating to Los Angeles last year, she recorded her debut album Waves, which is due out in 2019. This week, she shared the first cut from the album, “Get Out Of My Head.” “Get Out Of My Head” is a murky garage-rock jab at a former significant other, in which Rousseaux’s smooth, unruffled vocals are the perfect complement and counterweight to the grimy cloud of smoke produced by the song’s jittery, pluck-happy guitars. Fusing the moody garage-pop of La Luz with the dark, muddy alt-rock of Goat Girl, Sofia Bolt brings just the right portions of sweetness and grit, and she’s poised for a bright future. —Lizzie Manno

Toro y Moi:Ordinary Pleasure

Toro y Moi have shared “Ordinary Pleasure,” the second single from their forthcoming album Outer Peace, out Jan. 18, 2019, through Carpark Records. “Ordinary Pleasure” follows the blocky electronics of “Freelance” with a wash of tribal drums and rainy atmospherics. According to a press release, much of Outer Peace was written after Chaz Bear returned to the Bay Area following a year-long retreat to Portland, Ore., where he was “surrounded by the solace of nature.” “Ordinary Pleasure” feels closer to that state of mind than the frenetic “Freelance” did. It’s the same slippery funk we’ve come to expect, but it feels like it comes from a wellspring of, fittingly, inner peace. —Justin Kamp

Yak:Fried

London rock trio Yak have announced the follow-up to 2016’s Alas Salvation. Their second studio album Pursuit of Momentary Happiness is out on Feb. 8, 2019, via Third Man Records and Virgin EMI. They’ve also shared their latest single, “Fried,” following the release of previous tracks “Bellyache” and “White Male Carnivore.” “Fried” is full of fuzzy punk grumbles as the track ramps up via frontman Oli Burslem’s jagged howls and an epic, distorted cacophony of guitars. If these three new cuts from their record are a good indication of the album’s overall sound, it appears that the heavy-rock origins of Alas Salvation have been rekindled, as their turbo-charged guitar flamethrowers have been dusted off and wielded with a bold ferocity once again. —Lizzie Manno

BEST PERFORMANCES

Ra Ra Riot

Ra Ra Riot emerged in the great indie rush of the late 2000s alongside other pop-leaning rockers like Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit and Local Natives. They have close ties to Vampire Weekend, in particular: Ra Ra Riot’s 2015 earworm “Water,” also from 2016’s Need Your Light, is a collaboration with former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij. Rostam is as skilled a producer as he is a musician, and “Water” is still as catchy today as it was almost four years ago, when Wes Miles first pleaded, over brooding piano and heavy beats, “Don’t punish me for what I feel.” The band also recently released a new single, “This Time of Year,” which is the first from an album due out sometime next year. Ra Ra Riot stopped by the Paste Studio this week to play that tune, a slightly stripped-down version of “Water” and “Backroads,” a yet-to-be released song that will also appear on the new record. —Ellen Johnson

SASAMI

Sasami Ashworth, recent Domino Records signee and former keyboardist of Cherry Glazerr, records under the name SASAMI and has been making waves despite releasing only two tracks so far. She’s played on bills with Mitski, King Tuff, Snail Mail, Japanese Breakfast and more as well as lending vocals, horn and string arrangements to recordings from Vagabon, Curtis Harding and Hand Habits. SASAMI stopped by the Paste Studio in New York City this week to perform her previously released tracks—”Not The Time” and “Callous”—as well as two new songs—”Take Care” and “Free.” “Not The Time” and “Callous” are engrossing, introspective breakup songs, met with her warm, lush vocals, melodic guitars and utterly mystifying synths. Though you don’t get a sense of her full sound—complete with percussion and her awe-inspiring keyboard playing—in this session, you still get her emotionally transparent songwriting, immensely comforting vocals and dreamy guitars, all communicated with such grace. —Lizzie Manno

FEATURES

The 50 Best Songs of 2018

Matador Records, a label that’s home to several of the artists featured on this list, has a Spotify playlist called “Great Music For Terrible Times.” Though these times aren’t entirely terrible, Matador’s right, in a way: We need music even more when the going gets tough. The songs on this list would fit snugly under that same title. These are the songs we needed this year—to dance to, laugh to, cry to or space out to. These are the songs that helped us understand 2018 and survive in 2018. Whether it was a self-love bop from one of rap’s rising female stars or a #MeToo anthem by a rightfully enraged rock band, a dizzying love song or a quiet muse on the bleak state of affairs, or maybe even a blissful pop song, this year’s tunes often provided us with just what we needed to get by in the moment, and we’re sure to be playing these jams for years to come. Here are the songs that moved us in 2018. —Paste Staff

2019 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Predictions and Proclamations

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a flawed system, and an institution of its kind sometimes feels antithetical to the rock ’n’ roll ethos. However, its nominations and inductions still carry weight, especially among rock fans. The nominations are chosen by a Rock Hall committee and inductions are chosen by a combination of committee and fan votes. Placing power in the public’s hands often means the most commercially successful acts get in the door first, rather than the most influential, but as for this year’s nominations, we can’t really complain. There are some younger faces in Radiohead and LL Cool J and major legacy acts like Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard and Janet Jackson. Paste gave a breakdown of each of the 15 nominations for the 2019 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class. Typically, five or six nominees get inducted in December of each year. We’ve listed all the acts in alphabetical order, predicting who’s going to make it in and sharing who we want to win for next year’s class. —Lizzie Manno & Ellen Johnson

Nothing Like You: Celebrating the Songs of Scott Hutchison

“Obviously, I wish it wasn’t happening,” Kevin Devine explains. And he’s right—no one is especially happy that “Tiny Changes: A Celebration of the Songs of Scott Hutchison” is happening; Ben Gibbard, Julien Baker, Craig Finn, Aaron Dessner, and Devine all wish the Frightened Rabbit frontman was still with us and that this tribute show, taking place in Brooklyn at Rough Trade, wasn’t necessary. They’d do anything to grab one more pint and shoot the shit with their friend, their collaborator, and their favorite lyricist and performer. But just over six months since the Scottish indie rocker took his own life, this group of five musicians, all close with the late songwriter in various ways, is set to take the stage and perform a handful of Hutchison-penned songs that are most meaningful to them, choosing tracks that remind them of a specific tour, influenced their individual careers or represent something else entirely. The concert sold out in (literal) seconds, with all proceeds going to the Scott Hutchison Fund, a mental health charity set up in his memory. Though they all wish he was still with us and prepping his band’s rumored sixth album instead, they’re making a point to be here, no matter how hard it’ll be to step up to that microphone. —Steven Edelstone

The 10 Best Jazz Albums

In 2018, the jazz world saw important releases by revered elders like drummer Andrew Cyrille, trumpeter Eddie Henderson and saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter along with impressive outings by talented newcomers deserving of wider recognition like bassist Carlos Hernandez, saxophonist JD Allen and trumpeter-composer-arranger Michael Leonhart. Perennial favorites Bill Frisell and John Scofield again find a prominent spot on my year-end list. Tenor sax sensation Joshua Redman unveiled a supergroup and the telepathic duo of bassist Francois Moutin, and daring singer Kavita Shah positively swept me away. —Bill Milkowski

Paste Readers’ Favorite Albums of 2018

After publishing our list of the 50 Best Albums of 2018, we asked our readers to list their favorite albums of the year. And while you collectively agreed with our top pick of the year, there were several albums you thought we overlooked or underrated. Chief among them were the latest albums from Beach House and Car Seat Headrest. On the flip side, you weren’t nearly as excited about the debuts of Soccer Mommy or Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever as we were, though they both did get votes from our readers. —Josh Jackson