Music News: Billie Eilish releasing hotly-anticipated debut album


Billie Eilish performs in California, 2018.
Billie Eilish performs in California, 2018. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images for KROQ/Entercom)
Billie Eilish releasing hotly-anticipated debut album
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Above, listen to an episode of The Current's daily Music News podcast. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also sign up for a daily Music News e-mail and join our Facebook group.

It's Thursday, and that means it's time to talk about new music. Jay highlights albums from Billie Eilish, Marvin Gaye, Son Volt, and Steve Earle — plus Sky Ferreira's first original song in years.

Billie Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Earlier this week we were talking about Grammy predictions, but maybe the safest bet is Billie Eilish as Best New Artist nominee, maybe even winner. This year everyone's talking about the teenage singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, who's carved out a completely singular niche for herself in a crowded music landscape.

She's taken electropop up the charts by making it dark, even spooky. Her main musical collaborator is her brother Finneas O'Connell, and the fact that they can make music completely independently in their home makes Eilish the most prominent face of a revolution in the music industry. She broke out on SoundCloud with "Ocean Eyes" when she was just 13, and since then she's built her momentum to a fever pitch with hits like "When the Party's Over."

She also understands the importance of an eye-catching music video, and her visuals play right into her creepy but catchy aesthetic. The tarantula coming out of her mouth in the "Party's Over" video? 100% real, she says. With the long-awaited release of her debut LP When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, we'll finally be able to hear what else has been coming out of her mouth.

Marvin Gaye: You're the Man

Now, let's turn from a 17-year-old sensation to a late legend who would be celebrating his 80th birthday next week. Marvin Gaye died far too soon in 1984, but he left a rich recorded legacy, and more of that legacy is emerging this week.

You're the Man comes advertised as a great lost album, Gaye's intended follow-up to his masterpiece What's Going On. That might be overstating the case a bit, since Gaye never regarded this project as anywhere near finished. The new collection that comes out this week is a mix of shining moments and interesting experiments, shining light on a moment of musical transition for the brilliant artist.

Producer Salaam Remi, best-known for his work with Amy Winehouse, has touched up some of these 17 tracks in ways that purists might or might not agree with, but he helps bring coherence to a diverse collection that ranges from statements on feminism to easy-breezy pop. Here's Remi's mix of Gaye singing "Symphony."

Son Volt: Union

If you're ever going to make a political statement, now is probably the time. That's what Jay Farrar of Son Volt seems to have been thinking when he went into the studio to make Union. In fact, he recorded four of the album's songs while sitting next to Woody Guthrie's handwritten lyrics for "This Land Is Your Land." No pressure, right?

Farrar told Paste that he started writing these songs after the turmoil of the 2016 election. He said, "The only thing I could do to feel like I was participating in anything that might help would be to write these songs. Whether or not they helped is anybody's guess, but they helped me."

Songs like "The 99" take on economic disparities, while "The Symbol" is sung from the perspective of an immigrant facing deportation. Elsewhere on Union, Farrar sings about fatherhood from his own perspective as he faces the prospect of an empty nest. Here's one song inspired by family matters: "The Reason."

Steve Earle: Guy

On his new album Guy, one of the great songwriters of our time pays tribute to his mentor, the late Guy Clark. Clark helped Earle get his start: Earle played in Clark's band and recorded his first Nashville demos in Clark's kitchen. That was the same house Townes Van Zandt died in, Earle pointed out to Rolling Stone; Earle released a Townes tribute album ten years ago, and now it's Clark's turn.

Earle is hoping to shed new light on the legacy of Guy Clark, a songwriter's songwriter who's revered by musicians but isn't widely known. In covering Clark, Earle joines the likes of Johnny Cash and Ricky Skaggs, and he said he knew he had to start the project with Clark's masterpiece "The Randall Knife." Earle told Rolling Stone, "To me that was like your first day in jail. You pick out the biggest guy in the yard and you knock him out and then you get to keep your radio."

Sky Ferreira: "Downhill Lullaby"

And now, back to another highly-anticipated release: the first original song in years from Sky Ferreira. Her story is fascinating, and frustrating: another L.A. prodigy, she was signed to Capitol Records when she was just 15, but over a decade later, she's still just released a single album. It was a whopper, though: the stormy and powerful Night Time, My Time, released in 2013. She announced her follow-up two years later, we are in 2019.

Why the delay? According to a major Pitchfork profile, there are a lot of reasons, including Ferreira's acting career (you saw her in Baby Driver and Elvis & Nixon), but the biggest reason is that she wanted to make sure the record lived up to her own expectations.

One of her other acting projects was Twin Peaks: The Return, directed by one of Ferreira's artistic idols, David Lynch. You can hear the influence of Lynch's dark and dreamlike aesthetic in all of Ferreira's music, including the first single from the new album. She says she's almost positive the full LP, still titled Masochism, will be out sometime this year; until then, we have "Downhill Lullaby."

Audio sampled in podcast
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY 4.0)
Billie Eilish: "When the Party's Over"
Marvin Gaye: "Symphony"
Son Volt: "The Reason"
Steve Earle: "The Randall Knife"
Sky Ferreira: "Downhill Lullaby"

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