10 Best Songs of the Week: Kamasi Washington, LUMP, Florence + the Machine, Gruff Rhys, and More

Plus Neko Case, Stuart A. Staples, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Jenny Hval, Janelle Monáe, and a Wrap-up of the Week's Other Notable Tracks

Apr 13, 2018
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The top songs in this week's Songs of the Week list were readily apparent, it was just a case of working out the order, with the Top 5 switching order several times before being finalized. Many of this week's new songs are initial singles from albums or EPs also announced this week.

Elsewhere on the website this week: We posted a lengthy new interview with U.S. Girls. We reviewed new albums by A Place to Bury Strangers, Dusted, Mouse on Mars, Laura Veirs, and Zola Jesus. And if you head over to our Patreon page and sign up with us there for as little as $1.00 then you might have a chance to win a vinyl copy of one of these recent albums: Belle and Sebastian (their vinyl box set of three EPs), Car Seat Headrest, Lucy Dacus, Eels, Soccer Mommy, and Yo La Tengo.

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

1. Kamasi Washington: "Fists of Fury" and "The Space Travelers Lullaby"

On Monday jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington announced a new album on his Twitter account, a double album entitled Heaven and Earth. At the time no other details (such as the release date, tracklist, or any new music) were announced. Then on Tuesday Washington has shared two songs from it, "Fists of Fury" (a cover of the theme to the Bruce Lee film) and "The Space Travelers Lullaby," and confirmed the album's release date and tracklist. He also shared two short scenes/teasers for each song directed by British artist and director Jenn Nkiru that are part of a larger film connected to the album, the full film will be released later (the scenes are below too). He also announced some tour dates. Heaven and Earth is due out June 22 via Young Turks.

Sure, we're cheating by having two songs at #1, but each song is equally strong. If we had to pick one we'd lean towards "The Space Travelers Lullaby." And yes, these are pretty much straight up jazz tunes and we're mainly an indie rock publication. Washington doesn't go out of his way to modernize the genre with these songs, it'd be easy to convince someone they had been recorded in the 1970s, but when jazz sounds this good it can be transcendent.

Washington had this to say about the album in a press release: "'The world that my mind lives in, lives in my mind.' This idea inspired me to make this album Heaven and Earth. The reality we experience is a mere creation of our consciousness, but our consciousness creates this reality based on those very same experiences. We are simultaneously the creators of our personal universe and creations of our personal universe. The Earth side of this album represents the world as I see it outwardly, the world that I am a part of. The Heaven side of this album represents the world as I see it inwardly, the world that is a part of me. Who I am and the choices I make lie somewhere in between."

Heaven and Earth includes a new arrangement of jazz and bebop legend Freddie Hubbard's "Hubtones." Bandmate Ryan Porter also contributed one song. The album also features Thundercat, Terrace Martin, Ronald Bruner, Jr., Cameron Graves, Brandon Coleman, Miles Mosley, Patrice Quinn, Tony Austin, and others.

Washington's last full-length album was 2015's The Epic, although last year he released the Harmony of Difference EP. Despite being a jazz musician, Washington has crossed over to indie rock and hip-hop fans thanks to collaborations with St. Vincent, Ibeyi, Thundercat, Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Run the Jewels, and others.

2. LUMP: "Curse of the Contemporary"

LUMP is a new band that teams up Laura Marling and Tunng's Mike Lindsay. This week they announced their self-titled debut album and shared a video for its first single, "Curse of the Contemporary." LUMP is due out June 1 via Dead Oceans. "Curse of the Contemporary" sounds a bit more expansive and funky than some of Marling's more stripped back work, but it's not totally out of her wheelhouse.

Marling and Lindsay met when Marling supported Neil Young at a London show in June 2016 and they discovered that they were mutual fans of each other's work. The collaboration grew from there.

A press release explains some of things that influenced Marling's lyrics for LUMP: "Inspired by early-20th-century Surrealism and the absurdist poetry of Edward Lear and Ivor Cutler, she wanted to slice through the apparent emptiness of contemporary life. Her resulting creation is a bizarre but compelling narrative about the commodification of curated public personas, the mundane absurdity of individualism, and the lengths we go to escape our own meaninglessness."

Esteban Diacono directed the "Curse of the Contemporary" video, which features the LUMP creature brought to live, dancing via motion capture.

Diacono had this to say about the video in the press release: "For me it was very important that this video was respectful of the spirit of Laura and Mike's collaboration. I wanted to create a video that was joyful and interesting while at the same time retaining an innocent and tender overall vibe. I also wanted to touch on some of the topics that were important to Laura's lyrics, but under a different look. Visually, I took inspiration from the idea of California as a Dream Factory, from the idea of big movie sets that could transform themselves, give shape and colour to dreams and spark the imagination. The video is fully animated, and LUMP was brought to life using motion capture technology."

Marling's last album, Semper Femina, was released in 2017 via More Alarming Records, which is Marling's own label via Kobalt Music Recordings.

 3. Gruff Rhys: "Frontier Man"

This week Gruff Rhys, Welsh frontman of Britpop outliers and survivors Super Furry Animals, announced a new solo album, Babelsberg, and shared a video for its first single, "Frontier Man." The album was recorded with the 72-piece BBC National Orchestra of Wales and is due out June 8 via Rough Trade. Ryan Owen Eddleston directed the "Frontier Man" video, which is a humorous environmental statement as Rhys goes on a quest to dispose of a plastic bottle he sees another man litter. Rhys also announced some tour dates.

Babelsberg's songs were originally recorded in a quick three-day session in 2016 at producer Ali Chant's studio just before it was demolished and featured drummer Kliph Scurlock (ex-Flaming Lips), along with multi-instrumentalists Stephen Black (aka Sweet Baboo) and Osian Gwynedd. Then 18 months later Swansea based composer Stephen McNeff finished orchestral scores for the songs and the album was completed with the 72-piece BBC National Orchestra of Wales. 

Rhys had this to say about the album in a press release: "I'd made a note of the word 'Babelsberg' after driving past a sign when I was on tour in 2014. Cut to a few years later and the studio where I recorded the album was being knocked down just a week after I finished to make way for a 'luxury' apartment development. I was looking for a name that evoked the Tower of Babel - people building towers to reach an idea of heaven (but maybe creating a kind of hell - I'm an atheist by the way!) In any case I had written Babelsberg down and when I listened to the songs together, it finally made sense why I'd done that."

Rhys had this to say about the video in its YouTube description: "Ah! Greetings my friends, welcome to my new music video shot especially for the song 'Frontier Man,' in Cardiff, Wales and the Cardiff of the imagination. Watch me as I go in search of a bin through the deepest recesses, and frozen tundra of my mind. Discarded plastics will destroy the earth and may well have destroyed this video clip but rest assured, as predictable as it may be - it was all just a daydream."

Rhys' last solo album was 2014's American Interior (which was also a documentary film, a book, and an app).

Read our 2015 interview with Gruff Rhys about American Interior.

4. Florence + the Machine: "Sky Full of Song"

On Thursday, Florence + the Machine (aka Florence Welch and backing band) shared a brand new song, "Sky Full of Song." It will be released on limited edition 7-inch on Record Store Day (April 21). The song was shared via a video directed by A.G. Rojas, a black & white clip mainly featuring Welch singing the song whilst lying down.

Welch had this to say about the song in a press release: "This was a song that just fell out of the sky fully formed. Sometimes when you are performing you get so high, it's hard to know how to come down. There is this feeling of being cracked open, rushing endlessly outwards and upwards, and wanting somebody to hold you still, bring you back to yourself. It's an incredible, celestial, but somehow lonely feeling."

The 7-inch will include on the flipside a recording of "New York poem (for Polly)," which is taken from Welch's forthcoming book, Useless Magic, which is out July 5 via Crown Publishing/Penguin. A press release describes it as "a collection of lyrics, artwork and poetry offering a unique, personal insight into her creative process." 

Florence + the Machine's most recent album was 2015's How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. There's no word on Welch's next album, but she is playing some festivals this summer, indicating that she may be releasing a new one this year.

5. Neko Case: "Bad Luck"

Neko Case is releasing a new album, Hell-On, on June 1 via ANTI-. Previously she shared its title track, "Hell-On" (which was one of our Songs of the Week), as well as a trailer for the album that featured her singing "Hell-On" while snakes slithered around her head. This week she shared another song from the album, "Bad Luck." She also shared a teaser trailer for the "Bad Luck" video, which features Case in a burning house with the crown of cigarettes she wears on the album cover.

While recording Hell-On in Stockholm, Case got a phone call at 3 a.m. that her house had burned down after her barn had caught on fire. A friend had saved her dogs, but not much else. The lyrics to "Bad Luck" were written prior to the fire, but took on new meaning when she recorded the song the day after the fire.

Case had this to say about the fire in a press release: "If somebody burned your house down on purpose, you'd feel so violated. But when nature burns your house down, you can't take it personally." Her house burned down soon after Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico, and wildfires spread across California.

"In the big picture, my house burning was so unimportant," Case added in the press release. "So many people lost so much more: lives and lives and lives."

It's been five years since Case's last solo album, 2013's lengthily titled The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. Although she has also taken part in two New Pornographers albums since then and in 2016 she teamed up with k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs for the collaborative album case/lang/veirs.

Case self-produced Hell-On, although six tracks were co-produced with Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John in Stockholm, Sweden. Case mixed the album in Stockholm with Lasse Martin. The album features a slew of special guests, including Beth Ditto, Mark Lanegan, k.d. Lang, AC Newman, Eric Bachmann, Kelly Hogan, Doug Gillard, Laura Veirs, and Joey Burns.

6. Stuart A. Staples: "Memories of Love"

This week Stuart A. Staples, frontman for England's Tindersticks, announced a new solo album, Arrhythmia, and shared its first single, "Memories of Love." Arrhythmia is due out June 15 via City Slang. It is Staples' first solo album in 13 years and it features a 31-minute long instrumental track, "Music for 'A Year in Small Paintings.'"

Staples sings and plays guitar, bass, chimes, q-chord, philichorda, bells, Wurlitzer piano and vibraphone on the album. Arrhythmia also features Dan Mckinna (piano), Thomas Belhom (drums), Seb Rochford (drums), Julian Siegel (clarinet, quartet arrangement), David Boulter (musical saw), and Neil Fraser (guitar). "Music for 'A Year in Small Paintings'" was inspired by a film by Claire Denis about paintings by Suzanne Osborne, who is Staples' romantic partner.

Tindersticks' last album, The Waiting Room, was released in 2016 via City Slang.

 

7. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: "Talking Straight"

This week Melbourne, Australia five-piece Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever announced their debut album, Hope Dawns, and shared a video for a new song, "Talking Straight." Hope Dawns is due out June 15 via Sub Pop. The album includes the previously shared single "Mainland."

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe White had this to say about "Talking Straight" in a press release: "The concept came about when I heard someone talking about the possibility of us, humans, being alone in the universe, and how sad that would be. The idea in this song is that we might be lonely, but we could be lonely together."

8. Jenny Hval: "Spells"

This week Norwegian avant-garde musician Jenny Hval announced a new EP, The Long Sleep, and shared its first single, "Spells." The EP is the follow-up to her acclaimed 2016 album, Blood Bitch. The Long Sleep was recorded with longtime collaborator Håvard Volden and producer Lasse Marhaug. It features various jazz players: Kyrre Laastad on percussion, Anja Lauvdal on piano, Espen Reinertsen on saxophone, and Eivind Lønning on trumpet.

9. Janelle Monáe: "PYNK" (Feat. Grimes)

Janelle Monáe is releasing a new album, Dirty Computer, on April 27 via Atlantic. Previously she shared a science fiction-themed teaser trailer for it featuring both Monáe and actress Tessa Thompson (who starred as Valkyrie in last year's superhero hit Thor: Ragnarok and was also in Westworld), as well as videos for "Make Me Feel" and "Django Jane" (which both made our Songs of the Week list). This week she shared a video for another new song, "PYNK." The song features Grimes, although she's not in the video, which instead features Monáe, Thompson, and friends in a pink hover car and partying in the dessert. Emma Westenberg directed the video, which the YouTube description says is a celebration of "pussy power."

The full YouTube description is as such: "PYNK is a brash celebration of creation. self love. sexuality. and pussy power! PYNK is the color that unites us all, for pink is the color found in the deepest and darkest nooks and crannies of humans everywhere... PYNK is where the future is born...."

Dirty Computer is due out April 27 via Atlantic. The trailer described the album as "an emotion picture" and its YouTube description described that as "a narrative film and accompanying musical album." A press release says that details of the release of the "emotion picture" are forthcoming and that the two videos are part of the film.

It's been five years since Monáe's last album, 2013's The Electric Lady. In that time she has launched her acting career, with notable roles in the movies Hidden Figures and Moonlight, as well as guest starring in the Amazon Prime sci-fi anthology series Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams.

10. Gang Gang Dance: "Lotus"

This week Gang Gang Dance announced a new album, Kazuashita, and shared its first single, "Lotus." Kazuashita is the band's first album in seven years, since 2011's Eye Contact, and is due out June 22 via 4AD.

Gang Gang Dance is Lizzi Bougatsos, Brian DeGraw, and Josh Diamond. DeGraw produced the album, which was recorded in several New York recording studios and art spaces and also features drummer Ryan Sawyer and Jorge Elbrecht (who contributed additional production and mixing duties).

The band have also announced one show at Brooklyn's Elsewhere on June 22, the release day for the album. They promise that a fuller tour will take place later in the year.

Other notable new tracks this week include:

Ament: "Safe in the Car" (Feat. Angel Olsen)

A Place to Bury Strangers: "Frustrated Operator"

Arca: "Fetiche"

Arthur Buck: "I Am the Moment"

 

Ash: "Annabel"

Lou Barlow: "Love Intervene"

Cherry Glazerr: "Juicy Socks"

CHVRCHES: "Miracle"

Cold Cave: "You & Me & Infinity"

DJ Koze: "Pick Up" 

Empress Of: "Trust Me Baby" and "In Dreams"

Half Waif: "Back in Brooklyn"

Damien Jurado: "Allocate"

Many Rooms: "This Place Is Haunted"

The Men: "Shimmer n' Shine"

Nicki Minaj: "Barbie Tingz" and "Chun-Li"

Prefuse 73: "Basinskitarian" 

Michael Rault: "Dream Song"

Twin Shadow: "When You're Wrong"

Wand: "Perfume" 

Wax Idols: "Crashing"

Wet: "Softens"

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