The Week In Music: The Best Albums, Songs, Performances and More

First the Grammys, now the Superbowl? We're tired.

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The Week In Music: The Best Albums, Songs, Performances and More

This “Week In Music” was, quite frankly, exhausting. We watched (and then pondered) the lackluster, longlasting Grammys ceremony (which, in its defense, was clouded by the unexpected death of Lakers star Kobe Bryant earlier that day). We prepared ourselves for the new Netflix Taylor Swift documentary, Miss Americana. We rounded up the best music of the month. We made ourselves spiritually ready for another nationally televised, music-adjacent event—the Superbowl, which is happening Sunday. There’s just a lot going on, OK? Thankfully, this week also brought us some stunning new indie records that cut through the noise, like ones by Squirrel Flower, TORRES and Frances Quinlan. Find the scoop on those, plus all the other hoopla, below.

BEST ALBUMS

TORRES: Silver Tongue

In April 2018, Mackenzie Scott, the preternaturally talented songwriter who records under the name TORRES, announced on Twitter that her storied label, 4AD, had dropped her from a planned three-album deal “for not being commercially successful enough.” It was an upsetting blow, particularly given the strength of TORRES’ third album, Three Futures, an alluring art-pop concept album examining bodily pleasure with Kraftwerk and CAN as aural reference points. Scott tumbled into self-doubt. “I was in a really bad place,” she reflected in a more recent interview with SPIN. She considered leaving music altogether. Instead, she started writing, and didn’t stop for months. Silver Tongue, TORRES’ excellent fourth album—and first for Merge—is the result of that defiant burst. It’s not a set of sugary hooks designed to crack the Discover Weekly algorithm: The record, which is self-produced, sacrifices no ounce of Scott’s sharp-angled, emotionally explosive songcraft. It leans into the electro-pop atmosphere of Three Futures, but the textures are so unsettling and lonely that it would never scan as a bid for crossover appeal. Scott remains an improbably vivid writer both lyrically and melodically; throughout Silver Tongue, she takes desire and infatuation as her subject and icy synthesizers as her instrument of choice. —Zach Schonfeld

Frances Quinlan: Likewise

Joni Mitchell once said, “I’m a painter first. I sing my sorrow and I paint my joy.” You’ve heard her songs, but you’ve also seen her portraits, on the covers of Clouds, Both Sides Now and Taming The Tiger, to name a few places. Frances Quinlan, the frontwoman of esteemed Philadelphia punk outfit Hop Along, is a bit like Mitchell in that sense. She’s a lyricist, a writer, a singer (one of the most instantly recognizable in rock music, at that) and a talented painter. Her artwork appears on the three most recent Hop Along covers: 2018’s Bark Your Head Off, Dog, 2012’s Get Disowned and 2015’s Painted Shut, one of Paste’s favorite albums of the 2010s. Using someone else’s work for Hop Along visuals was always out of the question. Cut to now, and Quinlan is preparing to release her first solo album under her own name. Likewise is probably folksier than much of Hop Along’s more recent material, but only in the sense that the instrumentation is more bare and the storytelling takes center stage. For Likewise, Quinlan took inspiration from her own life (and other places, too—books, podcasts, etc.) and sculpted those moments into tight-knit little parables themselves. —Ellen Johnson

BEST TRACKS

Hazel English:Off My Mind

“Off My Mind” follows “Shaking,” which English released back in November 2019, and like that track before it, the new song finds her moving from muffled dream-pop to polished, nostalgic rock that still overflows with breathy melody. “Every time we talk / I just don’t know what to say ‘cause / I’m caught in a moment in between,” sings English over chiming guitars, marching drums and soft electric piano stabs—meanwhile, the video’s whimsical retro footage takes us back through the decades, to simpler, sunnier-seeming times. —Scott Russell

Diet Cig:Night Terrors

It’s safe to say Paste is glad to see Diet Cig back in action: We hailed the duo as one of 2016’s best new bands on the strength of their 2015 debut EP Over Easy and subsequent singles, and ranked Swear I’m Good At This among the best albums of 2017. There’s no word yet on whether “Night Terrors” is our first preview of a new album from the duo. “This song centers around my very real and frequent experiences with night terrors and other bizarre sleep activity,” Alex Luciano said of the single. —Scott Russell

Melkbelly:LCR

Chicago rock group Melkbelly have announced their forthcoming LP, Pith, and released the first single from the album, “LCR,” in tandem with an animated music video. The album will be released April 3 via Wax Nine/Carpark Records. Their forthcoming release, Pith, found its roots in the mourning process of the band, who had lost someone close to them. “We lost an incredible friend suddenly and nostalgia always acts as a helpful tool for me in navigating difficult times,” says frontwoman Miranda Winters in a statement. “Revisiting emotionally challenging moments or significant social interactions helps shed light on confusing feelings for me. Lyrically, grief gave way to considering life.” —Natalia Keogan

BEST PERFORMANCES

Horse Jumper of Love

Boston slowcore outfit Horse Jumper of Love stopped by the Paste Studio at our Atlanta HQ to perform a live session in support of their recent album So Divine, out now on Run For Cover Records. So Divine is their debut for Run For Cover, and it follows their 2017 self-titled first album. In our full review, Paste called So Divine, “the perfect record to listen to on headphones when you’re laying in bed at night, lonely and staring at the ceiling, trying to decide what shade of white said ceiling is.” Frontman Dimitri Giannopoulos and drummer Jamie Vadala-Doran performed stripped-back, slightly different arrangements of four tracks: “Bagel Breath” and “Spaceman” from their debut LP and “Ur Real Life” and “Stray Dog” from So Divine. —Lizzie Manno

Frances Quinlan

Hop Along frontwoman Frances Quinlan is releasing a solo album under her own name today. It’s called Likewise, and she performed three stripped-down versions of songs from the record in our NYC studio on Thursday: “Detroit Lake,” “Your Reply” and “Now That I’m Back.” You can read Paste’s recent interview with Quinlan right here.

FEATURES

2020 Grammys: The Best and Worst Performances

Frankly, I wish I didn’t have to care about the Grammys. It’s an archaic institution run by powerful, mostly white men who allegedly are doing everything they can to keep it that way. But performances still make us feel something—even if they’re presented by an organization that recently-ousted CEO Deborah Dugan called “corrupt” and an “old boys club.” In short, we can hate the Recording Academy and what it represents while still getting chills from Lizzo’s jaw-dropping performance that opened this year’s ceremony. Whether you skipped out on this year’s gathering (lucky you!) or sat there for three-and-a-half hours of largely mediocre or predictable moments, we wanted to recap the performances that actually made us feel something—whether it was disgust or complete wonder and awe. —Lizzie Manno

How This Bon Appétit Drinks Editor Became a Prolific Spotify Influencer

If you’re like me—and a good chunk of internet-dwellers at large—you’ve recently found abundant delight in watching a certain group of seemingly unassuming chefs and food editors create, cook and goof around in a test kitchen on the 35th floor of One World Trade Center in Manhattan. I’m talking, of course, about the Bon Appétit YouTube channel, which houses an all-star lineup of series featuring favorite personalities including Gourmet Makes with Claire Saffitz, It’s Alive with Brad Leone, Back-to-Back Chef with Carla Lalli Music and a special celebrity guest, as well as plenty of one-off videos featuring recipes, tips and experiments. Another such personality is Drinks Editor Alex Delany, host of the occasionally recurring series One of Everything, in which he brings a fellow BA pal along to a favorite NYC joint to try literally one of everything on the menu. He is an informant of good food, good drinks and good ideas for making them work together. What many of his followers and fans may not know, however, is Delany’s other not-so-secret talent: playlist extraordinaire. So you may be wondering, how does a drinks man/food guy/Instagram influencer become a Spotify hero? I was curious, too, so I called up Delany last week to talk about his music taste formation, the best songs to cook to and those weekly disco playlists. —Ellen Johnson

The 10 Best Albums of January 2020

The first month-long offering of 2020 albums has arrived, and like each month, we’re thrilled to share our favorites. Whether it’s Nashville folk, London dance music or French jangle-pop, this list has something for you. Many of the albums we were most excited about in January panned out and are on our regular rotation including TORRES, Frances Quinlan, Squirrel Flower and Andy Shauf. But others like En Attendant Ana and Okay Kaya took us by surprise. Check here for 10 of Paste’s favorite LPs from 2020 so far. —Paste Staff

Frances Quinlan Paints, And Sings, Her Honest Self-Portrait

Frances Quinlan, the frontwoman of esteemed Philadelphia punk outfit Hop Along, is a lyricist, a writer, a singer (one of the most instantly recognizable in rock music, at that) and a talented painter. Her artwork appears on the three most recent Hop Along covers: 2018’s Bark Your Head Off, Dog, 2012’s Get Disowned and 2015’s Painted Shut, one of Paste’s favorite albums of the 2010s. Using someone else’s work for Hop Along visuals was always out of the question. “I went to school for painting,” Quinlan tells me during a phone call on a particularly wet and cold day late last year—Dec. 18, the day of the House impeachment inquiry, to be exact. We’ve both just turned off the deposition stream. “That’s how I identify myself to a great extent, as a painter. So the idea of using someone else’s work or design for a Hop Along cover just never—I’m sure it’s got a lot to do with pride.” Cut to now, and Quinlan is preparing to release her first solo album under her own name. It’s called Likewise (out Friday on Saddle Creek), and the cover art is another Quinlan original. This time, it’s a pastel self-portrait painted specifically for this release (“People prefer images of people,” she says). Quinlan gave herself gray, hollow eyes, her gaunt face framed by a messy bun and scattered brush strokes. She almost looks like a deer in headlights. That fear in her face is purposeful. “A lot of what I see for solo album covers is a person who looks very wise and calm, collected,” she says. “And I don’t feel like any of those things. I’m a nervous person, so I thought I better look a little scared.” —Ellen Johnson

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