Best New Albums (Feb. 17, 2023)

Featuring Caroline Polachek, Girl Scout, Pile and Runnner

Music Lists Best Albums
Best New Albums (Feb. 17, 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.

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

Free Range: Practice
The debut album by Free Range—the project of Chicago-based singer-songwriter Sofia Jensen—feels like it’s always existed. “Want to Know,” one of Practice’s singles, exudes a familiarity based on Waxahatchee-esque acoustic guitars and muted drumming while obscuring a lyrical gut punch. By the time the song reveals a fuzzed out, country guitar lead and a strange, tight groove to wrap things up, the heartbreak becomes clear: “Don’t float back up without me / I don’t know how we’re supposed to talk.” Somewhere between the endless comfort of Wild Pink and the tight craftsmanship of those Arianne Lenker/Buck Meek albums, Practice is an album that shows confidence from the first note. Beyond “Want to Know,” the rest of the record is just as exciting, from the campfire haziness of “All My Thoughts” and the double-tracked vocals on “Traveling Song” to the blurry pianos of “Keep In Time.” With Practice, Jensen takes the strengths of their inspirations (Elliot Smith, Scandinavian forests, David Foster Wallace) and applies them to devastatingly beautiful songs. —Ethan Beck

Girl Scout: Real Life Human Garbage (EP)
Even after releasing just three songs, it was already clear: Girl Scout, a rock quartet from Sweden, are the best new band in the world. Trust me. Of course, propping an artist up on such a tall pedestal can have its consequences. But, sometimes, you can tell when there is magic. Is it hyperbolic of me to make such a grand assumption? Perhaps, depending on the musical tastes of those receiving my proclamation. Yet, few artists in recent memory have come out of the gates as quickly, and as powerfully, as Girl Scout. Emma Jansson, Viktor Spasov, Per Lindberg and Evelina Arvidsson Eklind are the electric and immediate future, stuffing their sound with bedroom pop, jittery New Wave and seething indie rock fashioned together like an amiable smorgasbord of untapped potential. The EP tracks heartache and nostalgia with familiar yet evocative imagery, like “I remember that I drew a heart around her name / While crying on the floor” and “Tongue-tied / Covered in rust / Letting go would be unjust” or “I feel fine when I’m driving by my high school / Buildings look small and I am supersized / Guess it’s alright to put the shame aside / When I look up at the sky and see a meteorite.” You can’t lift these memories from a television show, which makes Real Life Human Garbage so great. It’s a lived-in record, brimming with moments listeners can fully step into. Across the five songs, Girl Scout asks us to step into their color. Soon, Girl Scout will be running laps around indie rock, because they are not just the future, but, undeniably, every piece of the present, cutting through the noise, and expectations, with gracious, witty and kaleidoscopic rock and roll. —Matt Mitchell

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

Runnner: Like Dying Stars
On Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Noah Weinman’s debut album as Runnner, Like Dying Stars, We’re Reaching Out, finds Weinman continuing to refine his sound, splitting the difference between the ghostly indie-folk of his peer (and collaborator) Skullcrusher and the hooky bedroom-pop confessionals of Field Medic. On lead single “i only sing about food,” looping banjo plucks and acoustic guitar chords fade in over a rapid-fire drum loop, with whirling synths flickering in and out of the mix. Meanwhile, Weinman wrestles with his own internal monologue, struggling not only to express himself, but also to deal with the emotions that disconnect engenders (“I cried in your car / When I couldn’t find the words I was looking for”). Hooky and brief, the track pairs its lightness with the urgency of a search for badly needed relief from the pitfalls of one’s own mind. Piano and wordless vocal harmonies carry the track through its home stretch, Weinman’s vocal falling silent as if he’s focused on imagining a future in which he can just be understood. —Scott Russell

And don’t forget to check out … Anna B. Savage: in|Flux, Avery Tare: 7s, Inhaler: Cuts & Bruises, Lowly: Keep Up the Good Work, Ron Sexsmith: The Vivian Lane, Screaming Females: Desire Pathway, Secret Machines: The Moth, The Lizard, and the Secret Machines, Shonen Knife: Our Best Place, V/A: Birthright: A Black Roots Music Compendium

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