Best New Albums (Feb. 10, 2023)

Music Lists Best Albums
Best New Albums (Feb. 10, 2023)

Paste is the place to kick off each and every New Music Friday. We follow our regular roundups of the best new songs by highlighting the most compelling new records you need to hear. Find the best albums of the week below, from priority picks to honorable mentions. And check out the best new albums from the current week.

Andy Shauf: Norm
Originally named after Shauf’s desire to make a “normal album” without any narrative conceits, Norm’s scope shifted when a Mulholland Drive viewing took on accidental resonance because of a laptop glitch. This adjustment replays itself throughout Norm, where scenes often seem to be set a certain way until the lens widens or contracts to reveal something else entirely. Innocent crushes spin out into fixations, love cycles between the earthly and the divine, and questions of meaning and understanding entangle with desire. Rather than connecting the dots of its characters’ lore, Norm questions the format of the concept album in the first place, presenting pieces of evidence and asking the listener to find the story and draw their own conclusions. Characters shuffle through grocery stores and neighborhoods and existential planes, lurking behind trees and driving so far out of town that a sense of danger starts to creep in. The album opens with “Wasted On You,” an early single that first appears as a love song but reveals the perspective of God looking down on creation. Mixed by Neal Pogue, (Steve Lacy, Tyler, the Creator), the sound leaves room for interpretation with a spacious arrangement of acoustic guitars and unearthly keyboards, all played by Shauf. “Halloween Store” hums with the everyday joy of getting out of the house for an errand, accompanied by retro synths and a bizarre chain of mishaps and encounters that toy with predestination. “Sunset,” meanwhile, swoons with a romantic piano-driven sound that lets discordance creep in. This discordance includes Shauf’s beloved lyrical palette of social misfires, which on Norm are taken to new and stranger directions. Ambiguity distorts and distends across Norm, sometimes a heavenly machination or a metatextual device, and other times a tool for these characters to hide their intentions from others or themselves. Love itself resurfaces as the central question: is it an achievement of total understanding, or a complicated offering that suggests more about the person projecting it than the object of their affection? “You knew exactly what I meant,” savors a voice on “Long Throw” — but did they? Does anyone? — Annie Parnell

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

Laraaji: Segue to Infinity
45 years ago, New York’s Edward Larry Gordon embraced meditative New Age music with enough enthusiasm to press his debut record, Celestial Vibration, beginning his longtime practice of composing and releasing spellbinding ambient works for diverse sets of instruments. At the time, Gordon busked in Washington Square Park, sharing his improvisational electrified zither practice with his Lower Manhattan neighbors. Since then, the musician has adopted the name Laraaji and released dozens of full-lengths and collaborative records, becoming a singular name in contemporary New Age. Segue to Infinity re-releases Celestial Vibration as well as six side-length studio sessions from heretofore undiscovered acetates, collecting the extensive late ‘70s work that establish Laraaji’s expansive origins. Tracks like “All Pervading” showcase the artist’s extensive technical talents on the zither with an entrancing array of tessellating lines, where tracks like “Ocean” highlight Laraaji’s mastery of drone composition to generate senses of overwhelming tranquility. A listen to Segue to Infinity will fill an afternoon, but at no point do Laraaji’s compositions grow dull; these early works inspire intrigue and peace in equal measure.
Devon Chodzin

Narrow Head: Moments of Clarity
Heavy bands don’t always get credit for their pop music bonafides, but Narrow Head are one of today’s best pop bands. This Texas outfit aren’t really a pop band per se—their songs have so many layers of pummeling hard rock guitars that they’d give the infamously dense Be Here Now a run for its money—but they have an impressive sixth sense when it comes to pop hooks. Their songs are packed with so much intoxicating force that it would make even the most sane, sober person want to joyfully punch a hole through a wall, but frontman Jacob Duarte dishes out catchy, crushingly beautiful vocal melodies as if his sole purpose is to break your heart, sew it back together and send you back into the moshpit more amped than you were before. Since Narrow Head formed in 2013, listeners have often grouped them into the “grunge-gaze” phenomenon, and while they certainly owe a great deal to bands like Hum and Swervedriver, they sound more diverse than most bands given this tag. On Moments of Clarity, you’ll hear everything from abrasive alt-metal and touching slowcore to swaggering Britpop and thrashing hardcore. Their pop melodies are more shameless, their hardcore leanings are more pronounced and their vision is both more clear and fully realized. Duarte’s vocals have more personality than ever, twinkling, soaring and snarling with the zest of an inspired performer, not just a vocalist—a quality DiPerri consciously worked to instill. Plus, their typically dejected, gritty lyrics about trying to cope with everyday realities have taken a more self-reflective turn, including a few bursts of momentary happiness acting as much-needed counterweights. You could call their music a number of different things, but as long as you need a physical or emotional jolt, Narrow Head will be there to detonate that bomb. —Lizzie Manno

Paramore: This Is Why
Despite Paramore’s shifting lineups and disparate stylings across their discography, their influence on music writ large is palpable thanks to their multifarious approach to art. This Is Why captures that interdisciplinary spirit with cohesion and flair. The title track kicks things off on a stunning note, and “The News” harnesses the punchy verve. “Running out of Time” strikes a balance between atmospheric textures and syncopated buoyancy that is, simply put, really fucking fun. This Is Why, as its first three tracks show, accomplishes a feat that connects the band’s diverging sonic pathways without succumbing to whiplash. Throughout each of its 10 tracks, Williams navigates fatalism and a world where war, disease and climate change run amok. Whether she’s hiding from the public eye on “This Is Why,” lamenting the pervasiveness of a 24-hour news cycle on “The News,” or roasting chauvinists on “Big Man, Little Dignity,” Williams once again proves herself a formidable writer, and York and Farro are there to lend their craftsmanship to yet another captivating record. After the seemingly endless volatility this band has weathered, it’s a miracle that they exist, still making incredible music. Here, they sound self-assured and steady, like a group that understands what they have and makes the most of it. On This Is Why, Paramore have found land after a years-long trip at sea, grounding their ship and claiming all the accolades they’ve accrued in their time away. They deserve them all. —Grant Sharples

Quasi: Breaking the Balls of History
In the 10 years since the last time Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss released a Quasi record, their world looks immensely different. Between two shifts in presidential administrations (and even more in Congress), an ongoing viral pandemic, and shifts within each musicians’ working lives, the observant duo has a lot to work with. On Breaking the Balls of History, the duo’s first full-length for Sub Pop, Quasi lead with subtle confrontation, sleek drums, and curdling synthesizers that propel their wit, fury, and brilliance forward like a geyser. One can tell they’ve been sitting on this material for some time, even if their songwriting only commenced in the last two years; the synergy feels effortless. Never ones to insert their heads in the sand, Quasi’s alternative uses a similar sonic palette to their previous records but sings to today’s concerns. Take “Doomscrollers,” a pandemic anthem dedicated to all of us with nervous social media habits inflamed in the pandemic: “Blackberry pie, a la mode / Black coffee, no future / No one to be, nothing to see / Clouds hide the stars / And the helicopters” Coomes hollers, listing the simple pleasures in which all disheartened doomers can indulge. The record is full of moments like these, where Quasi gaze upon the nervous landscape, acknowledge the precarious circumstances which we navigate, and imagine something better, or at least something tangible onto which we can grab. It’s a terribly refreshing listen from some of alternative rock’s tightest performers. — Devon Chodzin

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

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

And don’t forget to check out … CIVIC: Taken By Force, Farmer Jason: Fish Wish, Kelela: Raven, Liar’s Academy: Ghosts, Maps: Counter Melodies, Pearla: Oh Glistening Onion, The Nighttime Is Coming, Rebecca Black: Let Her Burn, Supreme Beings of Leisure: 22, The Brian Jonestown Massacre: The Future Is Your Past

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