7 Best Songs of the Week: Julien Baker, St. Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Jones, and More | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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7 Best Songs of the Week: Julien Baker, St. Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Jones, and More

Plus Fischerspooner, Django Django, Belle and Sebastian, and a Wrap-up of the Week's Other Notable New Tracks

Oct 13, 2017 Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings Bookmark and Share

Last week we didn’t do a Songs of the Week post simply because there truly were hardly any new tracks worth considering for it. But this week there was a wealth of exciting new music. To help you sort through the multitude of fresh songs released in the last seven days, we have picked the seven best this week had to offer, along with highlighting other notable new tracks shared this week. Check out the full list below.

1. Julien Baker: “Turn Out the Lights”

Singer/songwriter Julien Baker is releasing her new album, Turn Out the Lights, on October 27 via Matador, her first for the label. Previously she shared its first single, “Appointments,” (which was our #1 Song of the Week), as well as a moving video for the song. This week she shared the album’s title track, “Turn Out the Lights,” via a video for the song. Sophia Peer directed the video, which features Baker singing the song while she wanders the countryside following a spark in the ground, a fuse that’s been lit that leads to a burning piano. Once again Baker wows with her soaring vocals in another deeply felt song that acts as an envoy directly to the listener’s soul.

Baker was recently a guest on the Minnesota Public Radio show A Prairie Home Companion, where she performed “Appointments,” debuted another song from the album, “Hurt Less,” and also performed the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul,” as well as being interviewed by host Chris Thile.

Turn Out the Lights was recorded at the Ardent Studios in Baker’s hometown of Memphis, TN. Baker wrote and produced the album, which was mixed by Craig Silvey (The National, Arcade Fire, Florence & the Machine). It is Baker’s sophomore full-length, the follow-up to Sprained Ankle, which was released by 6131 Records in 2015.

A previous press release described the album like this: “Turn Out the Lights expands upon the sound and vision of Sprained Ankle while retaining the haunting, confessional songwriting style for which she has become known. Throughout the album, she reflects on experiences of her own and those closest to her, exploring the internal conflicts that wrestle inside us all: how we deal and cope with our struggles, and how it all impacts both ourselves and our relationships of all kinds. The result is a deeply empathetic album that embraces the grays and complex truths of humanity and mental health.”

Baker announced back in January that she had signed to Matador after interest from most of the important American indie labels. Matador previously released a new Baker 7-inch and shared both its A-side, “Funeral Pyre,” and B-side, “Distant Solar System,” an unreleased track from the Sprained Ankle sessions.

Read our 2016 interview with Baker and our 2015 Artist Survey interview with her.

2. St. Vincent: “Pills”

St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) released her new album, MASSEDUCTION, today via Loma Vista. But earlier this week, a few days before the album’s release, she shared one last pre-release song from the album, “Pills.” It tackles our culture’s over-reliance on medications. The song features vocals from Cara Delevingne and Jenny Lewis and saxophone from Kamasi Washington. It’s also one of the album’s strongest songs.

St. Vincent previously shared MASSEDUCTION track “New York” (it was our #1 Song of the Week), as well as a colorful video for the song. She also shared another song from it, “Los Ageless” (which was also our #1 Song of the Week), as well as a vibrant video for “Los Ageless” in which Clark got plastic surgery. She also stopped by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to perform “New York” on the broadcast show and “Los Ageless” as a web-exclusive. This week St. Vincent also stopped by the BBC music show Later… with Jools Holland to perform “New York” clad in a leopard print body suit and accompanied only by a pianist wearing a shiny red Mexican wrestler mask.

Clark co-produced the album with Jack Antonoff, which was mainly recorded at Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan, with additional recording at Rough Consumer Studio in Brooklyn and Compound Fracture in Los Angeles. The album was announced via a slightly strange and awkward Facebook live press conference (she revealed that she secretly hates musicals).

Clark says this album is more autobiographical than her previous three albums. “Every record I make has an archetype,” she says in a press release. “Strange Mercy was Housewives on Pills. St. Vincent was Near-Future Cult Leader. MASSEDUCTION is different, it’s pretty first person. You can’t fact-check it, but if you want to know about my life, listen to this record.” In the press conference Clark said “this record’s about love.”

Clark previously announced a fall tour she’s dubbing the “Fear the Future Tour” and also shared a funny announcement video for the tour.

Also be sure to read our Best of 2014 Issue cover story article on St. Vincent.

3. Sufjan Stevens: “Wallowa Lake Monster”

Sufjan Stevens released his acclaimed album Carrie & Lowell in 2015 and earlier this year he released a corresponding live album and concert film, Carrie & Lowell Live. On November 24 Stevens is releasing a Carrie & Lowell mixtape entitled The Greatest Gift, via Asthmatic Kitty. It includes unreleased outtakes, remixes, and iPhone demos from the album and will be released on cassette, LP, and digital formats. This week he shared a song from it, “Wallowa Lake Monster.” The haunting and simply chill-inducing track is nearly 7-minutes long and ends with a beautiful choir section.

A portion of the proceeds from The Greatest Gift will be donated to Cancer Community Support, which a press release says “is dedicated to ensuring that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community.”

Stevens also recently teamed up with Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner (of The National), and James McAlister for a new collaborative album about space, Planetarium, which came out back in June via 4AD.

Stevens also has two new songs in Call Me By Your Name, a new gay romance film directed by Luca Guadagnino that stars Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet and is also due out November 24.

4. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: “Matter of Time”

Modern soul legend Sharon Jones (of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings) died last year at age 60, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. This week The Dap-Kings announced a final Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings album, Soul of a Woman, recorded in the months before she passed. It’s due out November 17 via Daptone. This week they shared a new song, “Matter of Time,” via its video. Jeff Broadway and Cory Bailey directed the video, which features footage of Jones and the band on road, backstage, and performing live. Label-mate Charles Bradley, who recently also lost his battle with cancer, also shows up briefly in the video.

A press release describes Soul of a Woman as such: “Though we’ll never again see her electric form shimmy across the stage, Sharon Jones continues to give us her soul and her music. She died nearly a year ago, but only now can we hear her final creation. Soul of a Woman captures a singer and a band at the peak of their power. Cutting one last time to eight-track tape at Daptone’s House of Soul studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, the band endeavored to create a record that stretches the limits of their soulful sound in all directions, giving us both their rawest and most sophisticated recordings to date-a final statement by one of the most influential rhythm and blues voices of the 21st century.”

The Dap-Kings’ bass player Bosco Mann produced the album and had this to say about it in a press release: “The last couple of years, Sharon was battling. When she was strongest, that’s when we’d go into the studio-Sharon couldn’t phone it in, so we would only work when she was really feeling it.”

Soul of a Woman was initially intended to be an album of string-laden ballads, perhaps accompanied by a tour featuring symphonies or string sections, but as they realized Jones didn’t have a lot of time left, they also recorded some of the funkier music she loved. As Mann says: “Side one is the more raw live side, while side two is more moody and orchestrated-more of a departure from her carnivorous live persona.”

Mann also says that Soul of a Woman ended up being their most collaborative album: “Sharon wanted to hear the story and relate to the song on a personal level. We were all living together on the road, so if somebody was going through something, she was right there with us. She couldn’t really sing something unless she could really own it and sing it from her heart.”

We last interviewed Jones in 2016, just a few months before her passing, and you can read that article here. And here is the tribute we wrote to Jones when she passed.

5. Fischerspooner: “Togetherness” (Feat. Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek)

Fischerspooner previously announced that a new album, Sir, was on the way this fall, but today it was officially announced as a February 16, 2018 release via Ultra. The duo (Casey Spooner and Warren Fischer), who survived the early 2000s electro-clash label, haven’t released an album since 2009’s Entertainment. Today they also shared a video for a new song, “Togetherness.” The song features the guest vocals of Caroline Polachek, of the recently broken up Chairlift. She also appears in the sexually charged video, which was directed by the band’s Warren Fischer.

Former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe produced Sir (he and Spooner briefly dated in the late ‘80s) and also co-wrote the album with Spooner. Sir was recorded in Athens, GA, and also features additional production by BOOTS and mixing by Stuart White and Andy LeMaster. A press release has this to say about the album: “The highly-personal album chronicles the dissolution of Casey’s 14-year romantic relationship and simultaneously acts a means of resistance towards popular conservative ideals today through its unabashed queerness.”

6. Django Django: “Tic Tac Toe”

Back in August Django Django previously kinda announced their third album, Marble Skies, via an article in the British music magazine Mojo, which the band shared on Instagram. This week they officially announced the album and shared its first single, “Tic Tac Toe,” via a video for the song. Marble Skies is due out January 26 via Ribbon Music.

John Maclean (the brother of Django Django’s producer/drummer David Maclean, who also used to be in The Beta Band directed the 2015 feature film Slow West starring Michael Fassbender) directed the video, which features a speeded up trip to a seaside town, including a ride on a ghost train that turns all too real. It all starts because the band is out of milk.

John Maclean had this to say about the “Tic Tac Toe” video: “The film could be about the fading era of the beach arcades, time moving too fast, love and games, horror and happiness but it is actually about a man who needs to go buy a pint of milk to make a cup of tea.”

In late 2016 three-fourths of Django Django-all except David Maclean, so Vincent Neff (vocalist/guitarist), Jimmy Dixon (bass), and Tommy Grace (synths)-spent 10 days at Urchin Studios in Tottenham, London with Metronomy’s drummer, Anna Prior, to “experiment with new material,” which was then sent to Maclean in Scotland to play around with. Then the full band later entered a small London studio to formally record the album.

The article in Mojo also said that the album features Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor singing lead vocals on “Surface to Air” and that Metronomy’s Anna Prior filled in for drummer/producer David Maclean while he took a break from the band for three months due to exhaustion and “unspecified personal problems.” Miami Vice composer Jan Hammer is also featured, kind of. Keyboardist Tommy Grace re-performed a piano part from “The Seventh Day” (from Hammer’s 1975 album First Seven Days). Hammer objected, saying Grace hadn’t played it correctly, but eventually relented.

Marble Skies is the follow-up to the band’s 2015 sophomore album, Born Under Saturn, and their 2012-released Mercury Prize-nominated self-titled debut.

Read our 2012 interview with Django Django and our 2015 interview with the band.

7. Belle and Sebastian: “I’ll Be Your Pilot”

Belle and Sebastian shared a brand new song, “We Are Beautiful,” back in July, as well as a video for the song in September. There was previously no word on whether the song was from a future EP or album. This week the Scottish band announced three interconnected EPs, all titled How to Solve Your Human Problems, and shared a new song, “I’ll Be Your Pilot.” How to Solve Your Human Problems Part 1 is due out December 8, How to Solve Your Human Problems Part 2 is due out January 19, and How to Solve Your Human Problems Part 3 is due out February 16. Then all three EPs will be collected in a vinyl box set and CD compilation, both due out February 17. “We Are Beautiful” will be found on Part 1. “I’ll Be Your Pilot” is taken from Part 2 and can be streamed below.

In a press release frontman Stuart Murdoch says “I’ll Be Your Pilot” is about his young son: “Having your first kid is a huge event, so I wrapped a lot of things I felt about Denny into the song. Being a dad made me feel a little like the pilot in The Little Prince, hence all the references to the Sahara!”

Last year the band announced that they were working on new music that they planned to release as a series of vinyl EPs and frontman Stuart Murdoch posted a casting call looking for models to appear on the covers of the EPs. They weren’t necessarily looking for professional models, but rather regular people who are fans of the band. The cover art for each EP is culled from this project. Fifty fans were selected to be photographed in a London photo studio and were also recorded answering the following question: “How do you solve your human problems?”

Murdoch says in a press release that the band’s relationship with their fans is “very comfortable” and he feels a responsibility to their fans: “I do feel it’s not just about the music anymore, and it shouldn’t be. You have this platform to spread good vibrations. Life is short! What are we doing here? Are we becoming better people?”

The band’s last album was 2015’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance.

Other notable new tracks this week include:

A. Savage: “Ladies From Houston”

Calexico: “End of the World With You”

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: “Holy Mountain”

The Go! Team: “Semicircle Song”

Hamilton Leithauser: “Heartstruck (Wild Hunger)” (Feat. Angel Olsen)

John Maus: “Teenage Witch”

No Age: “Soft Collar Fad”

Shamir: “Straight Boy”

Sleigh Bells: “And Saints”

Mavis Staples: “Little Bit”

Tears For Fears: “I Love You But I’m Lost”

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: “Black Tongue (Four-Track Demo)”

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Rizwan Ali
October 14th 2017

Very good collection>