The 10 Best Albums of February 2023

Music Lists Best Albums
The 10 Best Albums of February 2023

My personal favorite release this month was Girl Scout’s debut EP, Real Life Human Garbage, but since that’s a five-song EP, it didn’t make this list of the best full LPs from February. But there were plenty of other great albums from the month that we’re excited to share below, from Caroline Polachek’s brilliant expansive pop gem to yet another indie-rock gift from veterans Yo La Tengo to the uncategorizable but delightful music of Young Fathers. These are in alphabetical order—we’ll wait until the end of the year to rank them all and see which ones have stuck with our writers over the rest of 2023.

Black Belt Eagle Scout: The Land, The Water, The Sky
As the American state continues to occupy the territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific, land and life are central sources of conflict for indigenous groups, who are still cruelly deprived of their self-determination and tools for survival. The complex position of indigeneity has been crucial to the Black Belt Eagle Scout project, and on her third LP, The Land, The Water, The Sky, Paul centers the intricacies of home/coming across 12 pristine tracks, each pushing post-rock to its most beautiful extreme. While Paul’s journey has never been easy, The Land, The Water, The Sky makes particular effort to center the inherent hopefulness of her homecoming, one where unbridled joy meets a rekindled appreciation for rootedness. The swirly, grungy opener “My Blood Runs Through This Land” lays her ancestral connections bare, displaying her efforts to maintain contact with her lineage through a tactile relationship to her community’s historic and present land. On “Sedna,” Paul switches gears to center her relationship with her ancestry through wisdom, recontextualizing the story of the sea-based deity passed down from her Iñupiat lineage. While much of Black Belt Eagle Scout’s sound draws from alternative rock traditions that derive from the grunge sound Paul grew up on, Black Belt Eagle Scout songs often expand beyond the strictures of rock, making room for instrumental passages and layerings so profound and personal that they exist in a post-rock territory all her own. Black Belt Eagle Scout sounds especially at home on The Land, The Water, The Sky, finding a sweet spot where her sound remains compelling and poignant. — Devon Chodzin

Caroline Polachek: Desire, I Want to Turn Into You
In the wake of Chairlift’s dissolution, Caroline Polachek tried her hand at a solo project. After trying out various aliases, she ultimately settled on her own name. Her eventual debut, 2019’s Pang, produced by Danny L Harle, at once modern and bucolic, saw Polachek exploring the joys and anxieties of new love. Now Polachek’s sophomore effort sees her grapple with feeling limited by physical space and by our corporeal forms—she wants not only to be near someone she loves but become a physical part of them. Desire is just as esoteric musically. Its songs pull from genres as disparate as drum and bass, dembow, and flamenco while Polachek and producer Danny L Harle festoon them with baroque instrumentation—bagpipes, church bells, organs, and a children’s choir. Its arrangements are intricate and densely layered so that every song reveals itself to you more and more upon revisiting. Even the quiet moments split your attention, like on “Hopedrunk Everasking,” where a smoke alarm’s low battery chirp pierces the space between Polachek’s maudlin delivery. Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is a massive leap forward, and for an artist so focused on orate detail, never falters under the weight of its many parts. It’s elegant, revelatory, verbose and fucking catchy. —Eric Bennett

Pile: All Fiction
On the Boston band’s newest album, Pile is taken apart and remade. An experimental move for the trio of Rick McGuire, Kris Kuss, and Alex Molini, All Fiction sees them expanding on their already vivid and gripping sound. Across the record, they pull in a menacing array of strings, keys, and discordant vocal effects; things scarcely found across the group’s prior seven albums. The influence of these adornments is clear from the first few stoic moments of “It Gets Closer.” Macabre strings pluck a few times as if just to warn you they’re there, before slowly fleshing out into an orchestral wash. Having churned out some of the most consistent, inimitable rock music of the last decade, Pile could have remained in one place forever and satisfied their audiences. That’s what makes the sonic pivot on All Fiction feel so special; the band changed because they wanted to, not because they had to. —Eric Bennett

shame: Food for Worms
For a band who arose from a scene filled with abstractions and strangeness in every song, Shame’s best quality is how straight they play it. On their new album, Food for Worms, Shame tries to obscure the awkward fact that for a post-punk band, they’re not the best at post-punk. But their washed-out rock songs are outstanding, finding new ground between their melancholic indie-rock tendencies and the undercurrent of angst that propels the songs forward. “Fingers of Steel” starts the album beautifully, anchored around a thumping piano and Steen’s snotty, empathic singing. “There’s a sun outside, but you don’t see it,” he sings, with the background vocals underlining the words “see it.” But the song really takes flight when the drums drop out for the chorus and atmosphere thrives solely on grandiose harmonies. The band manages to reach new heights on the closer, a winding, Glastonbury-sized anthem entitled “All the People.” Much of the song is buoyed by the moving instrumentation, as the lyrics lean towards being vague and silly. “All the people that you’re gonna meet / Don’t you throw it all away because you can’t love yourself” isn’t a particularly inspiring sentiment, but it’s the slightly untuned, scraping guitars combined with Steen’s lackadaisical vocals that makes the chorus touching. When simple drums and harmonies appear during the second verse, it transforms into a monumentally bittersweet song. But the band keeps pushing, sustaining momentum for nearly six minutes, finally arriving at the album’s single transcendent moment just as it ends: “When you’re smiling and you’re looking at me / A life without that is a life I cannot lead.” Placed at the end of an album that doesn’t fully cohere, “All the People” is the best song Shame has released yet. —Ethan Beck

Sunny War: Anarchist Gospel
Sunny War’s upcoming album Anarchist Gospel takes its title from her belief that spiritual issues of love, sin and faith are crucial topics but don’t have to contained by the rules of any established church. Let’s be realistic, she seems to say: love, politics, drugs and anything else we can become addicted to provide both transcendence and derangement. Finding the right balance is an earthly not heavenly matter. The album’s sound benefits from the call-and-response gospel vocals of Kyshona Armstrong and the gospel organ of Jo Schornikow. Anarchist Gospel boasts the fullest sound of War’s six full-length albums, thanks to producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Deslondes, Hurray for the Riff Raff). It will get better distribution, courtesy of her new deal with New West Records, and should be the breakthrough that lifts her to a new level in the Americana field, a prominence that is long overdue. —Geoffrey Himes

Tennis: Pollen
While a name like Tennis may be entirely random, it suits Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley’s indie pop project to a T. The game of tennis is highly aestheticized, conjuring up images of pristine lawns, country clubs and pastel athleisure. Their sonic palette draws inspiration from prior eras of pop, recontextualizing the sounds of the ’60s especially for 21st-century moods. As novel as their compositions are, they possess an instant familiarity that charms, and even as Tennis has expanded their performances deeper into contemporary rock and pop, their charm has remained as strong as ever. On their sixth LP, Pollen, Tennis displays their knack for dance pop, showcasing synths and bass that recall visions of discotheques that look more modern than dated. While the duo does not completely depart from their retro roots or cliche signifiers of wealth, Pollen shows that the band is well aware of music’s expansive territory and that they are excited to expand their sound yet again. — Devon Chodzin

The Men: New York City
New York City is a ferocious album that keeps the needle buried in the red for most of its 37 minutes. These 10 songs, are sweaty and lean, packed with buzzsaw guitars and speedy, bludgeoning rhythms. The aesthetic of New York City evokes the album’s municipal namesake at its grittiest: it’s the sonic equivalent of someone dragging you into a glass-strewn alley on the Lower East Side after dark for a little tune-up. But, you know, in a good way. From the very start— the ominous, thwanging guitar part that opens lead track “Hard Livin’”—The Men go hard here. After the first couple of bars, “Hard Livin’” shifts into a pummeling rocker where guitars surge over a percussive piano part while Nick Chiericozzi sings in a leathery yawp, like he’s been gargling the shards of glass in that alley. The song doesn’t end so much as downshift directly into the second track, “Peace of Mind,” where a grimy riff takes over and the vocals jostle for space with the guitars over a relentless beat. It’s riff city on “Echo” as thunderous, overdriven guitar barrels along over splashy open hi-hat, while “Eye” lays back into something slower, with more sludge. Chiericozzi’s lead vocals initially consist of screaming out the song title, with the same kind of intonation he might use if he were swearing revenge against a mortal enemy. It’s electrifying. After forays into other sounds over the past decade, The Men have come back to their old digs, kicked in the door and cranked up the amplifiers. It’s as if they had never been away. —Eric R. Danton

U.S. Girls: Bless This Mess
In 2020, U.S. Girls, Meg Remy’s electro-pop stage name, released Heavy Light, one of the year’s sweetest experimental records. It would garner an Alternative Album of the Year nomination at the Juno Awards in 2021 and set expectations high for whatever Remy’s next record would become. Fast-forward to 2023 and Remy has returned with Bless This Mess a sign-of-the-times project conducted in the wake of a still-going pandemic and Remy’s pregnancy in 2022. From the seething guitars of “Futures Bet” to the scaled-back, stringed balladry of the title track, Remy is uninterested in making the same record twice. Bless This Mess, the Toronto-based musician’s eighth studio album since 2008, is daring, diverse and enchanting. If Bless This Mess marks an apex for Remy, whose 2018 record In a Poem Unlimited remains one of the best electronic projects of the last decade, may it continue burning on in perpetuity. —Matt Mitchell

Yo La Tengo: This Stupid World
Forty years of Yo La Tengo. Think about that: If a band had been around that long by 1983, the year Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan first performed together as Georgia and Those Guys, it would have formed during World War II. If critics seem to harp on about Yo La Tengo’s longevity, it’s because it signifies a kind of genetic mutation; bands of this age are not supposed to be still making albums this good. And This Stupid World, the Hoboken trio’s first proper full-length in five years (not counting the ambient lockdown quickie We Have Amnesia Sometimes), is very good indeed, a dreamy and reflective song cycle that welcomes us into Yo La Tengo’s private world while leaving ample mysteries unexplained and secrets untold. This Stupid World bristles with a sense of uneasy quiet as the world outside rages and burns. Humor and sadness swirl together, as they often do in the Yo La Tengo extended universe. The musicians trade instruments and vocals with ease. The record ripples with a sense of self-discovery. All three band members sing lead within the first four songs. This Stupid World is a particularly introverted record, even by their standards, and saves the expansive drones for last. The title track (the band’s first ever) is a monochrome drone rocker, plodding along like some damaged White Light/White Heat B-side. As the song sputters to an end, the trio repeats the titular refrain like a mantra: “This stupid world/It’s killing me/This stupid world/Is all we have.” Maybe that’s what passes for optimism these days. Maybe, as Yo La Tengo has found, perseverance in a stupid world is its own kind of hope. —Zach Schonfeld

Young Fathers: Heavy Heavy
The fourth proper album from Young Fathers is being billed as a “back-to-basics” effort, but there’s absolutely nothing basic about it. Bearing in mind that the Edinburgh trio’s full-length debut still sounds stunningly fresh almost a decade after the fact, it’s no surprise that their music remains as impossible to categorize as ever on Heavy Heavy. Five years after their last effort, bandmembers Kayus Bankole, G. Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi can still be counted on to create a clamoring mélange of electronic experimentalism, West African rhythms, art-damaged hip hop and god knows what else. (If you can imagine The Weeknd produced by the likes of Suicide, FKA Twigs, M.I.A. and Massive Attack, whatever you imagine still wouldn’t be quite cutting-edge enough.) As the new album title suggests, Heavy Heavy roils with the weight of the world bearing down from every angle. And yet the music itself glows with a sense of spirit that refuses to be quashed. In its own peculiar way, in fact, Heavy Heavy gives off the intoxicating, celebratory allure of a party record. As alien as Young Fathers might sound to previous (and current!) generations of dance music fans, the band has a way of using brain-twisting rhythms to get listeners on their feet. Lest we forget that disco and post-punk were practically born on the same dancefloors, Heavy Heavy reminds us that the DNA of both forms was bound to yield strange new permutations for a long time to come. —Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

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