Help save democracy with good music
+ Phoebe Bridgers' pandemic performances // James Blake covers Frank Ocean
Scared about the election and want to take action? Pick up this compilation — available today only, featuring David Byrne, Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, Feist, Tunde Adebimpe, Perfume Genius, Phoenix, Charly Bliss, Whitney, Beach Bunny, PUP, MICHELLE and way more. All proceeds benefit Voting Rights Lab, an org “designed to supercharge the fight against voter suppression and transform our voting systems.”
It has been a bleak week (what’s new?) but a few songs and albums have been bringing me joy and keeping me optimistic. Hopefully they do the same for you! I’ve added ‘em all to my ongoing Hear Hear playlist — give it a follow if you haven’t yet.
“Ghosts,” Bruce Springsteen. Look at The Boss and his E Street Band, still putting out classics in 2020! “Ghosts” is a genuine arena anthem, complete with his trademark touches: a saxophone burst, chiming bells, and a “la-la-la” sing-along breakdown. Turn it up loud. The lyric video is a nice little nostalgia kick, mixing old footage of the band with present-day cuts of them in the studio.
Fleet Foxes surprise-released one of the year’s best albums. Perfectly timed to the start of autumn, Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold has crafted a lush treat for our ears with Shore. For context, the first two Fleet Foxes albums are two of my all-time favorites, and the third (2017’s Crack-Up) was a major disappointment. This one is a return to form, with all of the hallmarks — baroque, pastoral arrangements paired with Pecknold’s soaring vocals on “Can I Believe You?” and “Sunblind,” and quieter folk beauties like “I’m Not My Season.” The production is somehow simultaneously tight and loose — sharp and crisp, but still playful and collaborative. This is particularly evident on “Young Man’s Game,” which starts with some studio banter before flourishing into a polished epic.
James Blake covered Frank Ocean’s “Godspeed” and the results are as good as you’d expect. (Blake worked on the original song, too.)
Jazmine Sullivan’s “Lost One” is a beautiful piece of subdued R&B, and Sullivan’s first true single since her 2015 album Reality Show. (Thanks to Ayanna Costley’s A-Side/B-Side newsletter for that context.) Definitely planning to check out that album, which I missed at the time — and hoping to hear more new stuff from Sullivan soon.
“Higher Places,” Nat Vazer. If you like Lucy Dacus and Alvvays, you’ll love this song (and the entire album) from Vazer, which manages to stand out in a crowded landscape of dreamy guitar pop. Thanks to GoldFlakePaint — one of the best music blogs still going — for introducing me to this one.
“Boomer,” Bartees Strange. Earlier this year, Strange made a powerful debut statement with an EP reimagining The National songs. As Lyndsey McKenna writes for NPR Music, Strange was “inspired in part by seeing the band in D.C. in 2019 and noticing how few other Black faces he saw in the crowd.” Today, he’s releasing a full-length album of originals, and the singles have been full of exciting, eclectic sounds fusing a wide range of influences — from Kings of Leon and TV on the Radio to Moses Sumney and Robyn. Early single “Boomer” has been in my head for months, bursting out of the gate with a frenetic intensity that builds to a thrilling chorus.
Strange also made a playlist of songs getting him through quarantine, and fittingly, it’s a genre-hopping mix of emerging artists like Shamir, Hannah Georgas, Pom Pom Squad, Bad Moves and Oceanator. (Plus, a great Dirty Projectors remix that I dropped in the Hear Hear playlist.)
Finally, watch these Phoebe Bridgers videos and feel a little bit better. All year long, Bridgers has perfected the art of the pandemic performance. With these three videos she’s on an absolute roll:
For NPR’s Tiny Desk, she had some fun with a presidential stage setup before a clever change of scenery that…well…you should really see for yourself. If you only have time for one song, watch “I Know The End” at 8:10.
At Red Rocks, she played a brilliant hour-long set — if you’re missing concerts as much as me, I highly recommend taking a night to watch this one on your TV, at full volume. (Suggestion borrowed from the wonderful Liner Notes newsletter.)
Finally, on Late Night with Seth Meyers, she played another great rendition of “I Know The End” — this time wandering around an empty candle-lit theater for a makeshift single-take music video. She might be playing to an empty crowd, but if you listen close, I’m cheering loudly at home.