Best New Albums (March 10, 2023)

Music Lists Best Albums
Best New Albums (March 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 current best albums to stream.

Fever Ray: Plunge
It starts with fear, because that’s present even in pleasure. As a phantom synth melody swirls between channels in the mix, Karin Dreijer’s lyrics return to the same uneasy question: “Did you hear what they call us?” “What They Call Us” hangs a pall over the rest of Radical Romantics, the third album from Dreijer’s solo project Fever Ray. Though Dreijer’s slippery experimental synthpop record never explicitly returns to the social peril of this opener, it looms like a latent hitch to queer desire, a subconscious state that must be confronted to achieve unguarded connection. It’s a thread made all the clearer in a stray aside on second track “Shiver,” with Dreijer interrupting their lustful lyrics with a simple question: “Can I trust you?” It’s a question of unclear directness—is it asked in actual conversation, or to themselves in thought?—but one that places all its impact in unambiguous baggage, holding the tacit hesitancy that comes after past hurt. Dreijer penetrates these themes with pop songwriting that cuts to the chase like a forthright come-on. For all their uncertain trust on “Shiver,” Dreijer and their brother/former bandmate Olof infuse the song with a deep, bubbly bounce, as if to prove that the track’s unquenchable thirst remains even through anxiety. What makes Radical Romantics, like the best of Dreijer’s work, a cut above merely great pop is its subversive streak. Their lyricism is unapologetically queer while sidestepping empty platitudes, more often nodding to the knotted complexities of queer and trans people’s existence against marginalization and endangerment. Even in the face of apprehension, Fever Ray has never surveyed their own future with this much conviction. —Natalie Marlin


Godcaster: Godcaster
Since the beginning, even the name Godcaster inspired a sort of metaphysical awe. The band’s original demos seized the power of their namesake with wild, jagged musicality —more of a response to the Beefheart and Zappas of the world than an homage. Undoubtedly, the work came from a place of frenzy, an attempt to use what tools they had available to translate the untamed energy the group possessed. Explosive drums from the group’s Sam Pickard pounded alongside flutes, angular guitars, and vocalist/guitarist Judson Kolk clan in a spandex suit. Godcaster wasn’t just an evocative title—it was a mission statement. Now, on their latest self-titled LP, Godcaster, the band has transitioned from maniacal intensity into celestial immensity. The expansion of the group (with the addition of bassist Jan Fontana) as well as a more refined production sheen than their previous releases allows the band to explore a deeper layer of their ultimate vision, culminating in an art rock/progressive odyssey that allows for moments of vulnerable sentimentality while simultaneously churning out some of the band’s darkest material to date. It’s sometimes easiest to describe the music of Godcaster in mythological terms, so if the band’s previous work is best represented by the feral demons of hell shredding on guitars in between torture sessions, Godcaster is more a musical accompaniment to the shrieks of pain bellowed by Prometheus as he has his entrails devoured day after day, gazing from his rock towards the unflinching sun. What sets Godcaster and in particular this self-titled LP apart from similarly eclectic and musically devious bands like Black Midi or Model/Actriz is not only the ecstatic inventiveness of the music itself, but the awesome might by which it is implemented—a mixture of cosmic grandiosity, devastation and a curious eye toward the inevitable tragic fate of the universe. —Jason Friedman


H Hawkline: Milk For Flowers
Six years after Huw Evans released I Romanticize under the H. Hawkline name, he returns triumphantly with Milk For Flowers for Heavenly Recordings. Agony and elegance stare each other down across the record’s 10 tracks, with Evans’ distinctive voice remaining the star of the show. Evans’ voice is always in conversation with gorgeous, punctuated instrumental arrangements, generating music with multiple dazzling focal points that make Milk For Flowers a thoroughly engaging listen. That said, the record’s vocal profundity is novel for Evans, reflecting a newfound lyrical urgency. Evans describes it succinctly: “I had to sing.” As sweet and shimmering as the saxophones are on a track like “Plastic Man,” Evans’ lyrics transform them into sirens of impending disaster as he demands “help me, help me, help me, help me.” Brass and keys are his preferred prisms through which to reflect his urgent emotions. They burn brightest on “Mostly,” a swaying meditation on mortality where Evans repeats, in falsetto, “I wanna die, I wanna die / I wanna die happy.” On tracks like “I Need Him,” the subtle percussion, gentle keys and acoustic guitar generate a more subtle but excellently intimate atmosphere. Milk For Flowers is, without a doubt, H. Hawkline’s most vulnerable record, but his gently theatrical gestures and Le Bon’s measured production cultivate such an inviting atmosphere that it’s worth stepping out of yourself for those 46 glimmering minutes. —Devon Chodzin


Lonnie Holley: Oh Me Oh My
After an a collaboration album with Matthew E. White over the pandemic, Lonnie Holley’s latest is full of collaborations. They include poet/activist Moor Mother adding her own lyrical flavor to Lonnie Holley declaring, “I Am A Part Of The Wonder” and “Earth Will Be There” and Michael Stipe lending his lovely baritone to the title track, singing “Oh Me, Oh My,” before Holley contrasts it with his higher timbre and his occasional growl. Justin Vernon, Sharon Van Etten, Rokia Koné and Jeff Parker all lend their talents to songs that both dig deep into Holley’s past and proclaim messages of peace and kindness and thankfulness. “Kindness Will Follow Your Tears” is one of the titles, and it’s one of the many mantras Holley has chosen to live by. But there are no vocal collaborators on “Mount Meigs.” It’s his voice alone over the cacophony as the memories become more horrific. The three years of abuse and neglect he experienced at the notorious Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children will always be with Holley. And they will always fuel his art and music, but with a purpose, challenging the viewer or the listener to think about the distant future and how we’re living. —Josh Jackson


Manchester Orchestra: he Valley of Vision
The Valley of Vision is the shortest Manchester Orchestra record yet by a significant margin; it’s composed of only six songs, clocking in at just over 26 minutes. Regardless, its brevity doesn’t make it any less ambitious, especially considering its interdisciplinary, multimedia mindset (an accompanying VR film). It conveys its motifs in subtle ways: through the verdant, deciduous imagery, its interweaving portrayals of natural decay and idyllic vistas, the harmony that hangs between youth and old age. Whereas its predecessor delved into heavy themes like the loss of family members and followed a character named the Angel of Death, The Valley of Vision is more tranquil and at peace with itself. It signifies resolution through liminality. It’s rife with acoustic guitars and spacious levity, a rarity for a band often associated with distortion and hard-hitting drums. —Grant Sharples


MSPAINT: Post-American
Raw emotion is at the heart of MSPAINT’s music—so much so that it practically explodes out of them. Their lyrics and album title, Post-American, refer to a post-apocalyptic world that’s succumbed to grave threats currently posed by capitalism, state violence, religion, misinformation and technology. Post-American suggests that it’s imperative to grasp just how horrific things are in order to make change, and to keep the beauty that power brokers rob from people at the front of one’s mind. Deedee’s stream-of-consciousness poetry is rather artful, mixing imagery from the natural world with seething political critiques, allowing listeners to interpret their tracks as both personal emotional awakenings and broader societal ones. But that doesn’t mean their political messages are subtle, as they spout lines like “Guillotine will decide who’s separated in classes” and “Burn all the flags and the symbols of man.” MSPAINT’s rabid synth-punk sounds like the future, as weirdo synths converge with blown-out basslines and emphatic, vein-popping vocals that fall somewhere between hip-hop MC and hardcore frontperson. Their moody melodies, leftfield grooves, barreling energy and rumbling hiss place them somewhere at the intersection of dance-punk, post-punk, egg punk and industrial music, but their lack of guitars really throws a wrench in things. MSPAINT may not win over the hearts of every hardcore diehard, but Post-American is a vehement document of Hattiesburg, Miss., DIY and an invigorating call to prioritize love and justice in a time when virtually every part of society and culture encourages robotic mindlessness. And if nothing else, they’ll continue to turn heads when they unleash their oddball electro-punk dirges at a punk venue near you. —Lizzie Manno


Shalom: Sublimation
Shalom’s debut record is very good and very emotionally naked. The 13 songs are familiar, but only sonically. They’re informed by her influences, like Car Seat Headrest and Soccer Mommy, but the lyrics are immense and personal, almost to the point where you might accuse Shalom of oversharing. That’s what you get with her. Being engrossed in the ugly parts of life is something Shalom is really in love with, and it translates into her own songwriting. But Sublimation is this grand exercise of not giving in to fear. She puts her entire self out on the line, not afraid of articulating her life in ways that might make for an uncomfortable list. The lead single, “Happenstance,” is a giant “fuck you” to Shalom’s college roommate from freshman year. Her de force single “Soccer Mommy” arose from the ashes of a destructive 2018, where she found herself off of her meds and taking a lot of acid, and her getting her driver’s license in 2019. The tracks are clean, groovy and urgent. Her vocals are unmoved and glide atop Ryan Hemsworth’s production in a mix of grit and finesse. —Matt Mitchell


Sleaford Mods: UK Grim
Like having the genetic trait of uncontrollable perspiration at the faintest hint of spice, as much as some people try not to sweat the small stuff as they grow older, it’s impossible to ignore the urge to flip a table when they detect bullshit. For the highly influential Nottingham post-punk and electronic duo Sleaford Mods, their infectious brand of anger isn’t necessarily a default setting, but it’s a feeling they’ve learned how to tap into. Vocalist Jason Williamson’s agitated working-class poetry and the inventive-yet-sparse beats of producer Andrew Fearn created a thrilling new direction for post-punk. With their 12th album  UK GRIM, Williamson and Fearn have delivered an album that recaptures that unbridled fury while pointing towards an evolution in their sound. While many have followed Williamsons’ lead vocally, Fearn’s production style has come into it’s own over the years and has provided a unique force of attack that has rarely been replicated. His minimalist, gritty lo-fi beats offer the right amount of drive yet never overcrowd, leaving ample room for Williamson to suck up all of the oxygen with his mile-a-minute rants. —Pat King


The Nude Party: Album
On The Nude Party Rides On, this septet have moved beyond their start as a garage-rock party band. They’ve haven’t lost that early energy and irreverent wit, but they’ve added a musical and lyrical ambition that makes them one of the best under-30 rock bands around. Those ambitions are stated clearly in “Tell Em,” the key song on the new album. It begins, revealingly, with a collision of urban and rural sounds, as Shaun Couture’s streetwise, stiletto guitar stabs into Patton Magee’s pastoral, Americana strumming. Soon Magee’s nasal tenor is singing, “Daddy told me, ‘Don’t lose your way. When you go singing a song, have something to say…. Tell ’em all the good times; tell ’em all the bad times too.’” The Nude Party has a history of catching people off guard. If audiences are expecting the fun and funny music implied by the band’s name, they’re surprised by the brittle chords or droning counterpoint of the Velvet Underground-inspired guitars and by the bite of the lyrics’ satire. There are more such surprises on the new album, which tackles hypocritical lovers, class divisions, loneliness, looming mortality, nuclear war and political violence—usually in the context of loose and catchy rock ’n’ roll. —Geoffrey Himes

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