Best New Albums (Feb. 24, 2023)

Music Lists Best Albums
Best New Albums (Feb. 24, 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 last week’s best albums to stream.

En Attendant Ana: Principia
I feel like a cliché drooling over another record on Trouble in Mind, but it’s been a while since any one label has so consistently put out the good stuff like this. The French band En Attendant Ana released their third LP on the label today, and it’s an uncommonly great piece of work—a gorgeous, heartfelt, pop-minded indie rock instant classic that churns together all manner of recognizable influences into something unique and unmistakable. It’s catchy, it’s jangly, it’s droney, it’s got robotic rhythms straight out of krautrock driving delicately human pop songs—it’s something special. And I’ve got to single out “Wonder,” an intricately structured miniature epic that is easily my most listened to song in 2023 so far. En Attendant Ana have been around for a spell but aren’t that well-known in the States yet; this should be the one to fix that. —Garrett Martin


Gina Birch: I Play My Bass Louder
I Play My Bass Loud, the solo debut from The Raincoats’ Gina Birch, an artist who’s been making music since 1977, was worth the wait. It’s got a jagged, old-school punk swagger to it (in pounding rockers like “Wish I Was You,” “Dance Like a Demon,” and the funk-sweltering title track, wherein she semi-seriously reflects, “Sometimes I wake up and I wonder / What is my job?”), a fun trailblazing edge (the distorted vocals and echoed dub/reggae of “Digging Down” and “Pussy Riot,” a tribute to Russia’s renegade rockers), and a delicate, refined undertone, enhanced by ex-Killing Joke anchor Youth’s keen production ear (“I Am Rage,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and a self-explanatory “I Will Never Wear Stilettos”). Birch’s mouth-open self-portrait on the cover accentuates the eclectic music—is she screaming at you, or just suddenly overcome with existential ennui? Or maybe a bit of both? The disc also boasts cameos from Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, plus five other female bassists, including The Mo-Dettes’ Jane Crockford. —Tom Lanham


Iris DeMent: Workin’ on a World
Workin’ On a World, the seventh album from folk-country singer/songwriter Iris Dement, bristles with cathartic socio-political anger and yet comforts and rallies a listener’s flagging spirit, as well. DeMent never realized she’d made so many classic protest songs over several sessions that began back in 2019 until she finally added them all up in early 2022. The album opens on the bouncy, piano-powered title track and confessional lines like “I got so down and troubled I nearly lost my head.” Then the roadhouse shuffle “Going Down to Sing in Texas” (which name-checks The Chicks and posits a sad fate for a returning Jesus with “The church today wouldn’t even let Him in the door”); a gentle ballad, “Say a Good Word” (which relies lyrically on “Words of wisdom from another time”); a jangly “The Sacred Now”; and the mortality musing “I Won’t Ask You Why,” which really showcases the singer’s delicate vibrato, still as strong and virtuous as it was on her debut, Infamous Angel, three decades ago—no mean feat. There is also a Chekhov-inspired “The Cherry Orchard,” a Mahalia Jackson-honoring piano stroll dubbed simply “Mahalia,” and the universal plea for justice and human empathy, “How Long,” wherein DeMent laments that “You feel like a silenced voice/ in a wilderness alone.” —Tom Lanham


Lucero: Should’ve Learned by Now
After all this time, Lucero is still hanging out in questionable bars, regretting wrong turns and nursing king-sized heartaches. If that’s cause for reflection on Should’ve Learned by Now, the band’s 12th studio album, it’s not exactly a mandate for change: the Memphis rockers are doing what they’ve always done, and it’s brought them this far. Lucero’s latest triangulates various past approaches into a marriage between the band’s surging early angst and latter-day introspection on the 10 new songs. The group gets off to a raucous start with opener “One Last F.U.,” which finds singer Ben Nichols snarling at a guy trying to make conversation at the bar. Meanwhile drummer Roy Berry hammers on a cowbell like he bears it a grudge, surrounded by a thicket of guitars cranked up about as far as they’ll go. A couple tracks later, “She Leads Me” is more subdued. A repeating guitar figure merges with piano, and Nichols sings in that distinctive gruff voice about trying to move forward without spending too much time glancing back. The fact that Lucero has made it 25 years singing about bad luck and worse choices is, in its own counterintuitive way, something worth celebrating. Let’s hope they never learn. —Eric R. Danton


Philip Selway: Strange Dance
It’s always interesting to consider how artists position their music relative to other artists who’ve come before them. Case in point: when Radiohead drummer Phil Selway first set out to make his third solo effort Strange Dance, he “imagined a Carole King record if she’d invited electronic composer Daphne Oram to drum on it.” The truth is, Strange Dance doesn’t sound anything like that! And that turns out to be a good thing. If Carole King and Daphne Oram provided an initial sense of direction, Selway and his “dream team” of collaborators—multi-instrumentalist Quinta, cellist Laura Moody, electronic artist Hannah Peel, producer Marta Salogni, drummer Valentina Magaletti and Portishead’s Adrian Utley—arrived at a sound that’s difficult to describe in terms of familiar “RIYL” reference points. Though Selway is unabashed these days in writing from the perspective of a 55-year-old, he came up with the basic idea for several of these tunes on the guitar two decades ago. It’s hard to discern how much Selway’s melodic sensibilities come into play in his day job, but Strange Dance gives us a glimpse into Selway’s perspective when he saw himself as an aspiring singer/songwriter. The combination of old tunes with modern sounds gives Strange Dance an alluring touch of temporal ambiguity, even as we can hear Selway growing as a musician. Fresh off his recent work scoring the BBC Radio play Sea Longing, the films Let Me Go and Carmilla, and the Rambert Dance Company’s celebration of choreographer Merce Cunningham, Selway has crafted an oddly reassuring brand of melancholia that’s unique to him. —Saby Reyes-Kulkarni


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


The Necks: Travel
Entire genres of music have been built around repetition, but no other band can pack so much satisfaction into one musical idea quite like The Necks. Now past its 35th year, the Australian trio has arguably turned its brand of repetition into a genre of its own. Ostensibly a jazz outfit consisting of double bass, keyboards and drums, the band’s m.o. (both on record and in-person) has remained more or less the same since the beginning: come up with a musical theme from scratch and dwell on it for an hour via extended improvisation. Single-minded music all too often feels single-minded, like being stuck in the artist’s obsessive thought loop. The Necks, on the other hand, combine buildup and payoff to sublime effect. Where other likeminded acts strive for a semi-conscious hypnotic state that requires a kind of sensory deprivation on the listener’s part, The Necks approach transcendence from the opposite direction. Necks pieces tend to awaken the senses because the band covers so much ground within its self-imposed limits. On their 19th album Travel, The Necks change up their usual format by offering four pieces, each roughly in the 20-minute range and each taking up a complete LP side. In that regard, Travel follows the same presentation as 2017’s double album Unfold, but The Necks still sound as fresh as ever. Long defined by their uncanny ability to extract variety out of a single motif, The Necks benefit greatly from giving themselves more colors and contours to work with on Travel—a kind of ultimate statement on complementary elements from a group that epitomizes complementarism to its core. —Saby Reyes-Kulkarni


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


And don’t forget to check out … Adam Lambert: High Drama, Algiers: Shook, Braxton Cook: Who Are You When No One Is Watching?, Christian McBride: Prime, Death Valley Girls: Islands in the Sky, Dierks Bentley: Gravel & Gold, Godsmack: Lighting Up the Sky, Gorillaz: Cracker Island, Gunnar: Best Mistake, Heinali: Kyiv Eternal, John Lee Hooker: Burnin’, Logic: College Park, Miss Grit: Follow the Cyborg, Neutral Milk Hotel: The Collected Works of Neutral Milk Hotel, Paul Kelly: People, Philip Selway: Strange Dance, The Church: The Hypnogogue, Tiësto: Drive

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