The best albums of the week, from Bruce Springsteen, Adrianne Lenker, and more
Not that I get remotely invested in Saturday Night Live hosting and musical guest duties, but this weekend’s pairing — Adele hosting, but forgoing the musical responsibilities, alongside H.E.R., who network executives love more than anyone I’ve ever met — is notable. Even if you have new music in the pipeline, as we can assume Adele might...sometimes it’s nice to avoid the cruel in-studio performance! Plus, we enter that zone where another incredibly famous pop star could begin her ascent into Hollywood stardom. Will Adele get her A Star Is Born or her Valentine’s Day? Perhaps neither, if she’s lucky.
In any case, it’s another remarkably crowded week for new albums, continuing a prolific late-career run from The Boss, an even more prolific run of brilliance from Big Thief frontperson Adrianne Lenker, a loaded new one from Ty Dolla $ign, and more.
Bruce Springsteen — Letter to You
What’s left for him to say? Apparently, quite a bit. Springsteen has gracefully aged into his twilight years, with the killer run of Springsteen on Broadway, last year’s Western Stars, and now Letters to You. Not that anyone questioned the big man’s grasp on mortality, nostalgia, and fragility of human loss, but he’s singing to these themes with a more specific focus than in ages. The E. Street Band’s back in tow, and they summon some absolute stunners with their signature uplift — see: the title track. The gang’s still got it.
Adrianne Lenker — songs / instrumentals
There are few things cooler than a band putting out a debut album called Masterpiece, and then managing to top it several times over in the next four years. Big Thief’s quiet, perceptive frontperson Adrianne Lenker returns after last year’s immense doubleheader of albums with two more — one set of more traditional vocal tracks, and another album composed of two loose, acoustic tapestries that contract and bend at will. We’re lucky to be basking in this run, which seems to keep hitting new peaks of variety. Lenker, along with John Ross of Wild Pink and Eerie Gaits, is one of the most astonishing songwriters we have on both sides of the ball.
Jeff Tweedy — Love Is The King
Not every aging indie rocker achieves the sort of cultural ambassadorship that Jeff Tweedy maintains right now. When touring was a thing, Wilco probably retained the strongest live fanbase of any of their ‘90s or Aughts indie peers. And now, he’s chugging along as a reputable author and still somehow making some of the most interesting music of his career. Last year’s Ode to Joy was a muted, spectral record that found new ways for the band to contract and reinvent itself. Love Is the King, not to be confused with Jesus Is King, follows a similarly restrained, folk palette of strong songwriting.
Ty Dolla $ign — Featuring Ty Dolla $ign
It’s hard to think of too many guys who’ve scrambled the landscape of pop music without becoming household names quite like Ty Dolla $ign. Not that it matters, but my defining early memory of the guy was when he was booked as the opener at my college’s annual spring rap show on a bill with Tyga, who didn’t make his flight or show up to the gig. Certainly a metaphor for where those careers were headed! Arriving three years after the revelatory Beach House 3, his new full-length comes packaged as a cheeky, star-studded acknowledgement of his valuable role in pop and R&B.
PUP — This Place Sucks Ass EP
I haven’t been able to listen to all of This Place Sucks Ass yet — personal reasons, won’t get into it — but if it’s anything like the entirety of this band’s run of classics, then it’s well worth a punk’s time. Last year’s Morbid Stuff plumbed further into depths of increasingly dark and depressing lyrical content, with the band’s signature hooks and snappy one-liners intact. The lead single off this leftover collection of sorts, “Rot,” indicates that they had enough high-wire misanthropy to fill a few albums. That title can apply to, well, just about anywhere right now...except for when I’m back in the pit of a PUP show in like 2022.