10 Best Songs of the Week: The National, Penelope Isles, Vampire Weekend, Bleached, and More

10 Best Songs of the Week: The National, Penelope Isles, Vampire Weekend, Bleached, and More

Plus Absolutely Free (Feat. U.S. Girls), Kindness, Cate Le Bon, and a Wrap-up of the Week’s Other Notable New Tracks

May 03, 2019
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Welcome to another Songs of the Week. There were lots of great new tracks this week, some from the usual suspects, others less expected. We’ve even got a whopping nine honorable mentions, but still managed to reign it in to just a main Top 10.

Elsewhere on the website this week we posted interviews with Aldous Harding, novelist/screenwriter Nick Hornby, Panda Bear, Piroshka, and a My Firsts interview with SOAK.

We also honored the 30th anniversary of The Stone Roses’ self-titled debut and the 10th anniversary of St. Vincent’s Actor.

In the last week we also reviewed a bunch of albums, including the latest by Bibio, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Kevin Morby, Ioanna Gika, and J.J. Cale. Plus we posted reviews of various DVDs, Blu-rays, films, concerts, and TV shows.

Don’t forget about our current print issue. The issue features Mitski on the front cover and boygenius (Julien Baker + Phoebe Bridgers + Lucy Dacus) on the back cover.

To help you sort through the multitude of fresh songs released in the last week, we have picked the 10 best the last seven days had to offer, along with highlighting other notable new tracks shared in the last week. Check out the full list below.

1. The National: “Hairpin Turns” (Feat. Gail Ann Dorsey and Lisa Hannigan)

The National are releasing a new album, I Am Easy to Find, which is accompanied by a 24-minute short film directed by Mike Mills and starring Oscar-winning Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, on May 17 via 4AD. This week they have shared another song from it, “Hairpin Turns,” via a video for the track. Mills directed the black & white video, which doesn’t feature footage from the short film, but instead showcases the band performing the song in a stark white space. The song features Gail Ann Dorsey and Lisa Hannigan. The video features vocalists Dorsey, Mina Tindle (aka Pauline Delasser), and Kate Stables (of This Is the Kit), as well as dancer Sharon Eyal (who is the co-founder, co-artistic director, and choreographer of L-E-V Dance Group). Also below is the album version, since it features slightly different backing vocals.

Mills had this to say about the video in a press release: “The video is a very simple portrait of the band (and the friends who helped make the song) and the song itself: You see all the instruments that make up the song in isolation, even hear them recorded live on set over the album version, kind of like showing you the tracks that make up the song. And you see everyone who contributed alone, including Gail Ann Dorsey, Pauline Delasser (aka Mina Tindle), and Kate Stables – but your mind puts them together. The dancer Sharon Eyal is sort of a continuation of Alicia Vikander’s character from the film I Am Easy to Find. We thought of her as Alicia’s unconscious, or her shadow self – that has her own life in this space.”

Previously The National shared I Am Easy to Find‘s first single, “You Had Your Soul with You” (which was our #1 Song of the Week), as well as a trailer for the film. Then they shared another song from the album, closing track “Light Years,” via a video made up of footage from the film, with Vikander playing a woman seen through the years, from childhood to motherhood. “Light Years” was also one of our Songs of the Week.

“You Had Your Soul with You” features guest vocals from David Bowie collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey and the album also features vocal contributions from Sharon Van Etten, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Mina Tindle, and more.

“Yes, there are a lot of women singing on this, but it wasn’t because, ‘Oh, let’s have more women’s voices,'” said frontman Matt Berninger in a previous press release. “It was more, ‘Let’s have more of a fabric of people’s identities.’ It would have been better to have had other male singers, but my ego wouldn’t let that happen.”

The project came together when Mills, who has directed iconic music videos and feature films such as 20th Century Women and Beginners, approached Berninger in September 2017 about collaborating together. Instead of just having Mills make a music video or two for them, they decided to get him much further involved in the album, so much so that Mills co-produced with the band. The album was recorded in Long Pond, Hudson Valley, NY, with additional sessions in Paris, Berlin, Cincinnati, Austin, Dublin, Brooklyn, and elsewhere.

The previous press release further explained the project and the relationship between the film and album: “The result is I Am Easy to Find, a 24-minute film by Mills starring Alicia Vikander, and I Am Easy to Find, a 68-minute album by The National. The former is not the video for the latter; the latter is not the soundtrack to the former. The two projects are, as Mills calls them, ‘Playfully hostile siblings that love to steal from each other’ – they share music and words and DNA and impulses and a vision about what it means to be human in 2019, but don’t necessarily need one another. The movie was composed like a piece of music; the music was assembled like a film, by a film director. The frontman and natural focal point was deliberately and dramatically sidestaged in favor of a variety of female voices, nearly all of whom have long been in the group’s orbit. It is unlike anything either artist has ever attempted and also totally in line with how they’ve created for much of their careers.”

The National released their excellent last album album, Sleep Well Beast, in September 2017 via 4AD. It was our Album of the Week and #7 on our Top 100 Albums of 2017 list.

Read our 2018 interview with The National.

Read our 2017 interview with The National on Sleep Well Beast.

Read our rave 9/10 review of Sleep Well Beast.

Read our 2012 interview with Alicia Vikander, as well as our 2015 interview with her.

2. Penelope Isles: “Round”

Penelope Isles are a new British four-piece that are releasing their debut album, Until the Tide Creeps In, on July 12 via Bella Union. Previously their single “Chlorine” was one of our Songs of the Week and they also shared a video for the song. This week they shared another song from the album, the indie pop gem “Round.”

The band’s Jack Wolter had this to say about the song in a press release: “It’s a love song – a collection of moments and thoughts of what it’s like to be in love. All the beautiful moments and all the difficult times too. Going round full circle. The verses are like the beautiful times that we will always remember where the chorus is the truth of how it’s not always that easy.”

The band features siblings Jack and Lily Wolter and are from Isle of Man-via-Brighton. The musical partnership came together when Jack came home from studying art at university.

“By the time I moved home Lily was not so much of an annoying younger sister anymore and had grown up and started playing in bands and writing songs,” Jack said in a previous press release. “We soon became very close. I had written some songs, so we started a band called Your Gold Teeth. We toured a bit and then Lily left for Brighton to study songwriting. A couple of years later I moved down and we started Penelope Isles together.”

Jack said the album consequently deals with themes of “leaving home, moving away, dealing with transitions in life and growing up. We are six years apart, so we had a different experience of some of this, but we share a similar inspiration when writing music. Family, leaving home, disconnection and connection all ring bells!”

Jack added: “It’s cool to have two songwriters in the band because I love her songs so much!”

The quartet is completed by Jack Sowton and Becky Redford. Jack directed the “Chlorine” video and produced the album, which was co-mixed by Iggy B (The Duke Spirit, John Grant, Spiritualized) in London’s Bella Studios.

3. Vampire Weekend: “We Belong Together” (Feat. Danielle Haim)

Vampire Weekend released a new album, Father of the Bride, today via Columbia/Spring Snow. You can stream the whole thing here. The band already shared six songs prior to the album’s release, but the album features 18 tracks so there are 12 other songs to also consider for this week’s Songs of the Week list. Three of those songs are duets with Danielle Haim of HAIM, including album opener “Hold You Now.” Our favorite of the non-singles is probably another duet with Haim, “We Belong Together.” In it the band’s Ezra Koenig and Haim sing about all the ways they belong together, but also admit that it might not be enough to actually keep them together.

Previously Vampire Weekend shared two songs from Father of the Bride: “Harmony Hall” (which was #2 on our Songs of the Week list) and “2021,” as well as a video for “Harmony Hall.” Then they shared two more songs: “Sunflower” (which features Steve Lacy of The Internet and was one of our Songs of the Week) and “Big Blue.” Then they shared a video for “Sunflower” directed by actor Jonah Hill and featuring comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld and rapper/visual artist Fab 5 Freddy. Then they shared another two songs: “This Life” and “Unbearably White.” “This Life,” which features backing vocals from Danielle Haim, was also one of our Songs of the Week.

Father of the Bride is the band’s fourth album. The band’s last album was 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City. Since then founding member/producer Rostam Batmanglij left the band as a full-time member. 

4. Absolutely Free: “Currency (Extended Mix)” (Feat. U.S. Girls)

This week Toronto trio Absolutely Free announced a new EP, Geneva Freeport, and shared its first single, “Currency (Extended Mix),” which features U.S. Girls (aka Meghan Remy). Geneva Freeport is due out June 20 via Idée Fixe.

Absolutely Free haven’t released an album since their 2014-released self-titled debut album, although last November they released the one-off single “Still Life.” The band consists of Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg, Michael Claxton, and Matt King.

U.S. Girls (aka Meghan Remy) released a new album, In a Poem Unlimited, in February 2018 via 4AD.

Read our 2018 interview with U.S. Girls.

5. Bleached: “Hard to Kill”

This week sister duo Bleached (Jessie and Jennifer Clavin) announced a new album, Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough?, and shared a video for a catchy new song from it, “Hard to Kill.” Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? is due out July 12 via Dead Oceans. The band have also announced some tour dates. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art, as well as the tour dates, here. 

The songs were written in Los Angeles and Nashville. Jessie did most of the instrumentation and Jennifer mainly did the lyrics and melodies. Shane Stoneback (Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells) produced the album. The album is the follow-up to 2016’s Welcome the Worms and 2017’s Can You Deal? EP. A press release says Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? is the band’s “first LP written from a place of sobriety.”

Jennifer had this to say about the album in a press release: “Writing these songs while sober became somewhat of a spiritual experience. I had to let go, trust the process, and allow an energy beyond my control to be present.”  

6. Mark Kozelek and Petra Haden: “The Power of Love” (Huey Lewis and the News Cover)

Mark Kozelek always seems to have something in the pipeline, be it a solo release, one under his Sun Kil Moon moniker, or a collaborative album. This week he announced a new album with Petra Haden, Joey Always Smiled, and shared its closing track, a cover of Huey Lewis and the News’ 1985 hit “The Power of Love,” from the soundtrack to the classic film Back to the Future. Joey Always Smiled is due out on October 11 via Kozelek’s own Caldo Verde label. Check out the album’s tracklist and cover art here.

We don’t include too many covers in our Songs of the Week, but the duo put an interesting enough spin on the song to highlight it here. Kozelek and Haden take the upbeat rock of Huey Lewis and the News’ original and turn it into something much slower and more stripped back, which puts a greater emphasis on the lyrics (and they are still quite good without all the ’80s production). “The Power of Love” was Huey Lewis and the News first number 1 hit and was featured prominently in Back to the Future. Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly character also plays a harder rock instrumental version of the song with his band The Pinheads in an audition to before at the high school dance, but is turned down by the judge, played by Lewis himself in a cameo who says “I’m afraid you’re just too damn loud.”

Joey Always Smiled also features Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, character actor Kevin Corrigan, and others. The album’s other six songs are originals.

7. Kindness: “Lost Without” (Feat. Seinabo Sey)

This week Kindness (aka Adam Bainbridge), shared a new song, the effortlessly funky “Lost Without,” which features Swedish singer Seinabo Sey. Kindness co-wrote the song with Kelela.

The song follows “Cry Everything,” which Kindness released in March and was a duet with previous collaborator Robyn. It featured a sample of Todd Rundgren’s “Pretending to Care” and the percussion was played by Arthur Russell collaborator Mustafa Ahmed.

Kindness’ last album was 2014’s Otherness. Since then Bainbridge has kept busy producing and collaborating with the likes of Solange and Blood Orange. There’s no word yet on a new album.

8. Cate Le Bon: “The Light”

Welsh singer/songwriter/guitarist Cate Le Bon is releasing a new album, Reward, on May 24 via Mexican Summer. This week she shared another song from the album, “The Light.”

Previously Le Bon shared Reward‘s first single, “Daylight Matters,” which was one of our Songs of the Week, as well as a video for “Daylight Matters.” Then she shared another new song from the album, “Home to You,” via a video for the track. Le Bon doesn’t feature in the video directed by Phil Collins (no, not that Phil Collins). It was filmed in Lunik IX neighborhood of Košice (Eastern Slovakia), which houses a Roma community who, as a press release states, “due to successive governmental and municipal policies, often live in slums and on isolated, dilapidated estates.” “Home to You” was our #1 Song of the Week.

In terms of her solo work, Reward is the follow-up to 2016’s Crab Day, although last year she released Hippo Lite, her second album with DRINKS, a collaboration with Tim Presley of White Fence. Le Bon also produced Deerhunter‘s recent album.

Le Bon spent a year living in isolation in the Lake District in the UK, by day making wood furniture and by night playing piano and writing songs. “There’s a strange romanticism to going a little bit crazy and playing the piano to yourself and singing into the night,” Le Bon said in a previous press release.

Of the album title, Le Bon said: “People hear the word ‘reward’ and they think that it’s a positive word, and to me it’s quite a sinister word in that it depends on the relationship between the giver and the receiver. I feel like it’s really indicative of the times we’re living in where words are used as slogans, and everything is slowly losing its meaning.” 

The album features Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint, H. Hawkline, and Samur Khouja. The latter co-produced Reward with Le Bon.

9. Big Thief: “Century”

Big Thief released a new album, U.F.O.F., today via 4AD, their first for the label after two albums on Saddle Creek. Stream it here.

This week they shared the third and last pre-release single from the album, the chill folk-tinged “Century.” The song premiered Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. EST, when it was simultaneously broadcast on the following radio stations: KCRW Los Angeles, WFUV New York, WFPK Louisville, WYMS Milwaukee, and KCMP Minneapolis.

Previously Big Thief shared U.F.O.F.‘s first single, the similarly titled “UFOF” (which was one of our Songs of the Week). Then they shared its second single, “Cattails.”

The “F” in U.F.O.F. stands for “friendship.” The album is the follow-up to 2017’s Capacity and 2016’s debut album, Masterpiece. Last fall singer/songwriter/guitarist Adrianne Lenker released a new solo album, abysskiss, via Saddle Creek. Lenker and the rest of the band (guitarist Buck Meek, bassist Max Oleartchik, and drummer James Krivchenia) recorded the album at Bear Creek Studios in rural western Washington. The album was tracked live with engineer Dom Monks and producer Andrew Sarlo.

A previous press release stated that lyrically, “U.F.O.F. is a dream in the dark,” adding that “characters and scenery interact outside of time. Names of mystery women appear, then disappear. Cruelties flash. Pronouns meld. There is a darkness here, but it’s not one to be feared.”

Lenker added: “Making friends with the unknown… All my songs are about this. If the nature of life is change and impermanence, I’d rather be uncomfortably awake in that truth than lost in denial.”

Read our 2016 Pleased to Meet You interview with Big Thief.

Read our 2017 interview with Big Thief on Capacity.

10. HÆLOS: “Another Universe”

London-based band HÆLOS are releasing a new album, Any Random Kindness, on May 10 via Infectious. This week they shared another song from it, “Another Universe,” which will be the album’s last pre-release single. They also announced some new UK and European tour dates, which you can check out here.

The band’s Lotti Benardout had this to say about the song in a press release: “The first lyric – ‘Come down from heaven now’- came out almost subconsciously. A few months later my dad sadly passed away in an accident. It’s eerie for me to listen to now because the song is almost like a prediction, written to help navigate the difficult questions that came with his loss – If you took a different decision, where would you be now? Would things be different?”

Any Random Kindness is the band’s second album, the follow-up to 2016’s debut full-length, Full Circle, which was released via Matador. The album includes “Buried in the Sand,” a new song the band shared back in October via a video (it was one of our Songs of the Week), and “Kyoto,” a new song shared in January via a video for it (it was also one of our Songs of the Week). Then they shared another new song from the album, “Boy / Girl.” That was followed by “End of the World Party” (which also made our Songs of the Week list).

HÆLOS were originally a trio (Arthur Delaney, Dom Goldsmith, and Lotti Benardout), but have now added touring member Daniel Vildósola. On their debut the band pulled from ’90s trip-hop sounds originated by Massive Attack and Portishead for inspiration.

Orlando Leopard produced the album, which was recorded at Baltic Studios in East London and at their home studio. Matt Wiggins (Glass Animals) and Marta Salongi (The xx) mixed the album.

A press release points out: “The latter part of the recording was especially tense, with many near breakups. However, this process led to a new, optimistic perception of each other, and music that explored the push and pull of relationships. A new, increasingly dance-floor oriented direction to their sound emerged.”

Read our 2015 article on HÆLOS.

Honorable Mentions: 

These nine songs almost made the Top 10.

Jehnny Beth & Johnny Hostile: “Let It Out” 

Calexico and Iron & Wine: “Midnight Sun”

Stef Chura: “They’ll Never”

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: “Black Star Dancing”

Looms: “Once Known”

Maps: “Surveil”

Operators: “I Feel Emotion”

Palehound: “Worthy”

Porridge Radio: “Don’t Ask Me Twice”

Other notable new tracks in the last week include:

Ludovic Alarie: “je te laisse fermer mes yeux” 

Black Midi: “Talking Heads”

Charles Bradley: “Lonely As You Are”

Jamie Cullum: “Taller” 

Culture Abuse: “Goo”

Dark Morph: “Beka Yalo”

(Note: Dark Morph is Jónsi of Sigur Rós + Carl Michael von Hausswolff)

Dumb: “Beef Hits”

Fitz and The Tantrums: “I Need Help!”

The Glow: “I Am Not Warm” and “Weight Of Sun”

The Head and the Heart: “People Need a Melody”

 

Holy Ghost!: “Do This”

 

Holly Henderson: “Loneliness” 

Holly Herndon: “Frontier”

Madonna: “I Rise”

Ryan Pollie: “Raincoat”

Spencer Radcliffe & Everyone Else: “Bloodletting”

Sebadoh: “Sunshine”

Julia Shapiro: “A Couple Highs”

Tacocat: “New World”

Titus Andronicus: “Tumult Around the World”

Tricot: “Butter” 

Verdigrls: “Small Moves”

Violent Femmes: “Hotel Last Resort”

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