Since the pieces I’ve done so far have been fairly intensive, I figured I’d change it up this week and try a new format where I talk about some recent musical happenings in a shortform list. I still don’t have a better name for this segment than “Music Update”, so please feel free to suggest something if you’ve got any ideas.
St. Vincent Announces New Album, Releases Single
Earlier this week, musical innovator and guitar virtuoso Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, announced her sixth studio album Daddy’s Home, due to be released May 14. Once again working with producer Jack Antonoff (who seems to be absolutely inescapable in the industry at this point), Clark claims the album is inspired by both 70s music and her father’s release from prison in 2019. Along with the announcement, she released the lead single and album opener, “Pay Your Way in Pain”, and it’s different, to say the least. To be frank, I don’t like it all too much. It honestly defies description; every listen of it I get through, I find myself asking “What just happened?” . In terms of the vocals, usually a high point of any St. Vincent song, the deadpan speaking on the verse is awkward, and the hook is an earworm, but in an annoying, rather unflattering way. Arguably the best part of the song is the intro, where ragtime piano and warm guitar lead me to think I’ll be hearing a sweet throwback pop song, but that only lasts about 10 seconds before abruptly crashing into the stilted, hulking beat that makes up the backbone of the song. It’s strange and experimental for sure, but to my ears it just comes off as messy. I’ve seen it being compared to the likes of David Bowie and Prince, and while I’m not incredibly familiar with their respective discographies, I fail to see how this matches the great songwriting of their best known singles, or even St. Vincent’s finest work herself. I’ve been a fan of Clark for a few years now, and while she’s never released a project I absolutely love from front to back, I’ve consistently enjoyed a majority of her music. As much as I admire her constant artistic reinvention (the new aesthetic is admittedly very cool), this single makes me a bit nervous for how the new record will come out.
Lucy Dacus – “Thumbs”
Singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus has come through with a new song, “Thumbs”, which she’d been playing live since 2019. It’s a big change of pace for her, and it works surprisingly well. With just an idyllic bed of synths under her, Dacus recounts a day from her time in college in agonizing detail. The vocals are distinct and warm as usual, but when it comes to the lyrics, I have never heard her sound so biting. The chorus, “I would kill him if you let me / I would kill him, quick and easy”, comes off remarkably sweet for being so cruel, and even that doesn’t prepare the listener for the graphic titular line of “my thumbs on the irises, pressing in until they burst”. I’d previously found her to be my least favorite in the three artists that make up the group boygenius, undeniably good but just not quite as good as the others (Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker), but this song has me thinking that certainly could change.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Announce New Album
Experimental music collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor announced a new album last week, titled “G_d’s Pee at State’s End!”. The enigmatic group has been the source of some of my favorite music in college, from the 1998 post-rock classic Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven to their cinematic 2012 comeback record Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, and I have high hopes that this album will be on par with their best work. As with their last album, the band released a statement of demands, including to “empty the prisons”, “take power from the police and give it to the neighbourhoods they terrorize”, and “end the forever wars”. As a collective, Godspeed has always been about politics, about art in all mediums, about people, about so much more than the music, and for that, I admire them deeply.
Laura Les – “Haunted”
Laura Les, songwriter and producer best known as half of the polarizing hyperpop duo 100 gecs, released one of the most insane songs I’ve heard this year on Friday. Now, it certainly isn’t everyone, as it takes all the distortion and autotune of 100 gecs and dials it up to 11. As someone who’s a fan of that sound (though it admittedly gives me headaches after prolonged listening), I can’t get enough of it. The chorus is pretty much unintelligible, but that doesn’t stop it from being incredibly catchy. The production is equally crushing and sweet, with huge, blown out bass balancing well with bubbly synth arpeggios. The song has a great sense of energy, and I love being able to hear how much Les clearly puts into her music. My only complaint is that, at one minute and 42 seconds, I wish it was longer. Considering this is her debut solo single and it came out so good, I’m very excited to see what she has coming up in the future.
As part of the music update, I figured I’d give a few of my picks and predictions for the 2021 Grammy Awards this Sunday in preparation for a lengthier piece on the Grammys next week.
Best New Artist
Nominees: Ingrid Andress, Phoebe Bridgers, Chika, Noah Cyrus, D Smoke, Doja Cat, Kaytranada, Megan Thee Stallion
Who I think should win: Phoebe Bridgers
Who will probably win: Megan Thee Stallion
Best Rock Song
Nominees: “Kyoto” – Phoebe Bridgers, “Lost in Yesterday” – Tame Impala, “Not” – Big Thief, “Shameika” – Fiona Apple, “Stay High” – Brittany Howard
What I think should win: “Kyoto” – Phoebe Bridgers
What will probably win: “Lost in Yesterday” – Tame Impala
Best Rock Performance
Nominees: “Shameika” – Fiona Apple, “Not” – Big Thief, “Kyoto” – Phoebe Bridgers, “The Steps” – HAIM, “Stay High” – Brittany Howard, “Daylight” – Grace Potter
What I think should win: “Not” – Big Thief
What will probably win: “The Steps” – HAIM
Best Metal Performance
Nominees: “Bum-Rush” – Body Count, “Underneath” – Code Orange, “The In-Between” – In This Moment, “Bloodmoney” – Poppy, “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe) – Live” – Power Trip
What I think should win: “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe) – Live” – Power Trip
What will probably win: “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe) – Live” – Power Trip
Best Rock Album
Nominees: A Hero’s Death – Fontaines D.C., Kiwanuka – Michael Kiwanuka, Daylight – Grace Potter, Sound & Fury – Sturgill Simpson, The New Abnormal – The Strokes
What I think should win: The New Abnormal – The Strokes
What will probably win: Kiwanuka – Michael Kiwanuka
Best Alternative Album
Nominees: Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple, Hyperspace – Beck, Punisher – Phoebe Bridgers, Jaime – Brittany Howard, The Slow Rush – Tame Impala
What I think should win: Punisher – Phoebe Bridgers
What will probably win: Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Fiona Apple
Best Folk Album
Nominees: Bonny Light Horseman – Bonny Light Horseman, Thanks for the Dance – Leonard Cohen, Song for Our Daughter – Laura Marling, Saturn Return – The Secret Sisters, All the Good Times – Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
What I think should win: Song for Our Daughter – Laura Marling
What will probably win: Thanks for the Dance – Leonard Cohen