This week's pick:
Papercuts - Can't Go Back (buy it)
An early contender for song of the year is Can't Go Back opener "Dear Employee" (sample); it lifts me up and away every single time. Hazy, up-tempo chamber pop sets the mood of slumming grandeur; Jason Quever's soaring Mac McCaughan-like vocals wail the refrain "I don't need you" with different inflections each time, recalling "Chelsea Hotel" and "I Am the Cosmos" in its epic, ironic ambivalence. Put it on the Valentine's mix tape you won't give to your unrequited crush.
Nothing else quite knocks me out, but lead track "John Brown" is a fine pop song in its own right, "Take the 227th Exit" sounds like long-lost mid-period Kinks, and the record is chock-full of dreamy ballads you'll feel OK drifting uneasily to sleep to. Their tour with Grizzly Bear starts 2/16 in Seattle and crosses the country.
MP3: Papercuts - John Brown
Lucinda Williams - West (buy it)
Plenty of reviews are already in on this long-awaited disc, and they run the gamut from pick to pan. Entertainment Weekly loves it, giving it an A; Pop Matters is a lot less enthusiastic, describing the recording process: "she decided to change her ways and instead took her original 2005 demos for West to New York producer Hal Willner, in search of something “mature yet hip". Somebody should probably tell Lucinda that mature is rarely hip." You can stream it here.
Essie Jain - We Made This Ourselves (buy it)
Essie Jain has a rich, pure voice and sings in a classic folk style, often double-tracking the vocals. The songs are slow and deliberate, if maybe a bit too soothing. From Ba Da Bing!, the folks who brought you Beirut.
MP3: Essie Jain - Glory
MP3: Essie Jain - Haze