While I’ve lost count of how many days we’ve been in quarantine, I’ve done a damn fine job tallying all the great new music I’ve discovered during this otherwise gloomy time. Last week, the dazzling new Fiona Apple album swept me right off my feet, and this week another veteran artist returns with some of her finest work, too: Lucinda Williams, with her grizzled new record Good Souls Better Angels. On the singles side of things, new songs are dropping daily despite the various sticky situations plaguing artists right now, and this week we heard some really lovely ones by a new Secretly Canadian signee, a band we’ve all loved for ages, a rock singer with major potential and so much more. We also continued our new daily series The Paste Happiest Hour, which invites guests to chat, drink and wind down their days the best way—with cocktails and conversation. See all of that and more below.
Lucinda Williams: Good Souls Better Angels
The songs on Good Souls, while a perfect snapshot of enlightened anger, aren’t all brand new. The sludgy blues tune “Bone Of Contention” dates back to 2005, just missing the cutoff for the alt-country troubadour’s 2007 album West. “You’re the splinter in my finger / you’re the knife in my back / you’re the bone of contention,” Williams sings in her signature snarl that has made her a legend in the eyes of so many, sounding more furious than she ever has before. That fury is what makes this album, even the songs that were written a few years earlier, so topical. Similar to the way Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters resonated so fiercely just a week ahead of Williams’ Good Souls Better Angels, these songs weren’t written about our current state of frenzied pandemic panic, but their arrival during spring 2020 gives them an especially clairvoyant air. A rebellious spirit is certainly seeping out from every angle on Good Souls Better Angels. “You can’t rule me,” Williams declares right out of the gate. She also bemoans the relentless news cycle on “Bad News Blues,” laments the content of those news cycles on “Big Rotator,” mourns the paralyzation that comes with depression on “Big Black Train” and scorns evil men “of hate, envy and doubt” over a swirling vortex of guitar feedback on “Man Without A Soul.” While there’s one “man” in particular who lyrics like “You bring nothing good to this world / Beyond a web of cheating and stealing / You hide behind your wall of lies” may call to mind, it’s not necessarily a slam of POTUS specifically—but it sure does work well as one. —Ellen Johnson
Hazel English: Wake UP!
Straw-man time: If it’s hard to make a truly bad dream-pop album, it’s equally tricky to make a really good one, and for identical reasons. The essential ingredients are the same in either case. You need reverb, introspection and hazy melodies that evoke ’60s pop. How you fit them together is what makes all the difference. Australian-born Los Angeles transplant Hazel English puts those elements to use in service of 10 songs that glide by comfortably on her full-length debut, Wake UP!. It’s a respectable enough effort, full of chiming guitars and sleek vocals as English delivers lyrics that parse feelings of isolation and explore power dynamics from romantic relationships to capitalism. Despite the sometimes fraught subject matter, her songs are engaging and pleasant, as well as a reminder to be present and engaged with herself and the world around her. They also feel more fussed-over than the EPs she released in 2016 and 2017, which had an immediacy these songs sometimes lack. After demonstrating intimacy and charm on her earlier material, English shows with Wake UP! that she’s capable of making a bright, big-sounding album. Once she gets around to combining those sensibilities, well, look out. —Eric R. Danton
Angelo De Augustine feat. Sufjan Stevens: “Santa Barbara”
Angelo De Augustine has shared a new track featuring Sufjan Stevens, the beautifully contemplative “Santa Barbara,” released via Steven’s label Asthmatic Kitty. The track arrived in tandem with a music video self-directed by Augustine, featuring a glistening coastline and existential pondering. “‘Santa Barbara’ touches on the uncertainties and realities of being mortal in the landscape that we view through our experience; displaying ghostly apparitions, love, death, and a famous British novelist,” De Augustine told Rolling Stone. “It was a good experience to record this song with my friend Sufjan. I look forward to sharing more soon.” —Natalia Keogan
Bright Eyes: “Forced Convalescence”
After announcing their return and signing to a brand new label (indie gatekeepers Dead Oceans) earlier this year, Bright Eyes released another new single this week. Following March’s “Persona Non Grata,” they’ve shared the airy “Forced Convalescence,” another great showing from a band we’ve been missing for almost 10 years. Persona Non Grata is a blitz of bagpipes and Conor Oberst’s thoughtful musings, while “Forced Convalescence” is a slowed indie-folk jam complete with a gospel choir and what sounds like a harpsichord. —Ellen Johnson
While Helen Ballentine has played music for most of her life, the first Skullcrusher song was written only a little over a year ago. Ballentine moved to L.A. from her home in upstate New York in order to study studio art as an undergraduate, but quickly found that songwriting was where her heart was. While nannying on the side in order to make ends meet, Ballentine wrote “Places/Plans,” and thus the first Skullcrusher song came to life. “I thought a lot about my self-worth during this period of uncertainty,” Ballentine says. “‘Places/Plans’ attempts to communicate the beauty and vulnerability of being alone and what it means to let someone else in to see that.” —Natalia Keogan
The Paste Happiest Hour
This week we caught up with Sarah Jarosz, The Milk Carton Kids, Liza Anne and more. Watch every episode—future and past—on our YouTube page.
20 Songs That Hit Different In Quarantine
We’ve been socially distancing as a country for well over a month now, and things are starting to get weird. I now refer to my cat as my roommate and consider canned pear halves fresh produce, while moving from the couch to the kitchen table counts as exercise. Monotony is starting to set in, but in order to decrease the longevity of this crisis, we need to stay inside in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus and therefore flatten the curve. Meanwhile, music, movies, TV, books and podcasts are available to entertain us, and certain songs in particular have taken on different meanings in isolation. Here are 20 tunes that just don’t sound the same anymore. —Ellen Johnson
The Best Lyrics on Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Fiona Apple released her highly-anticipated fifth album Fetch the Bolt Cutters on Friday, and there are almost too many biting, unforgettable one-liners to count. Apple has always been a deft lyricist, but Bolt Cutters brings her to new heights. She confronts feelings both new and old with a fresh ferocity and brings scathing takedowns upon anyone who may try to quiet her. There’s a chance we’ve never needed Fiona Apple more than we do right now, and the singer delivered. While it was difficult to even narrow it down, here are a few of the most memorable lyrics from Fetch the Bolt Cutters. —Ellen Johnson
25 Classic Songs About Perseverance That Aren’t “Don’t Stop Believin’”
When we feel at our weakest, sometimes the best pep talk can come from a song. This coronavirus pandemic is testing our will power, and we’re not even sure how long we have to endure these circumstances. People are feeling dejected and powerless, and it can be easy to just hang our heads and wallow in sorrow. But we’ve been tested before, and previous generations will certainly credit music as a guiding light during their struggles. If you’re looking for some music with a bit more lived-in wisdom and durability than your average songs of today, look no further than this list. This isn’t a time for the trite theatrics of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” or the overwhelming garishness of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” We need the riches of gospel and soul music and heartfelt, melancholy classic rock—music that’s been bruised and lived to tell the tale. We’ll allow one exception to this rule, and that’s a Queen song, but it’s only because they recruited David Bowie, and it’s genuinely poignant as opposed to those two previously mentioned tracks. Dig into 25 classic songs about the resiliency of the human soul. —Lizzie Manno
Lucinda Williams is One Angry Optimist
Lucinda Williams is the opposite of every Boomer stereotype. She’s politically enraged, and she’s certainly not worthy of the “out of touch” label slapped on many Boomers. On her new album Good Souls Better Angels, and during a recent phone call, she sounds just as fed up with everything as millennials are. “It’s pervasive—that feeling that you’re always getting, of being astounded and shocked and pissed off,” Williams, now 67, says. “I’m mad. I’m frustrated.” The songs on Good Souls, while a perfect snapshot of this enlightened anger, aren’t all brand new. The sludgy blues tune “Bone Of Contention” dates back to 2005, just missing the cutoff for the alt-country troubadour’s 2007 album West. “You’re the splinter in my finger / you’re the knife in my back / you’re the bone of contention,” Williams sings in her signature snarl that has made her a legend in the eyes of so many, sounding more furious than she ever has before. That fury is what makes this album, even the songs that were written a few years earlier, so topical. Similar to the way Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters resonated so fiercely just a week ahead of Williams’ Good Souls Better Angels, these songs weren’t written about our current state of frenzied pandemic panic, but their arrival during spring 2020 gives them an especially clairvoyant air. Williams, one of the most decorated songwriters in Americana music, describes this phenomenon as “ironic.” —Ellen Johnson