The 10 Best Albums of March 2019

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The 10 Best Albums of March 2019

Spring has finally sprung, and the albums that soundtracked the start of allergy season, St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness and more have filled us with a familiar joy. The month of March saw the release of career milestone records from indie rock stalwart Jenny Lewis and newly-reunited Britpop band Sleeper. March also saw the release of impressive debuts from U.K. upstarts Nilüfer Yanya and Indoor Pets, plus some warm folk via Y La Bamba and bluegrass from Tim O’Brien. Dive into Paste’s 10 favorite albums from the past month below.

Here are the 10 best albums of March, according to Paste’s music critics:

10. Sleeper: The Modern Age
Rating 7.7

Nostalgia’s a funny thing. At times, people actively seek it, hoping to return if only briefly to yesteryear and swaddle themselves in the sense memories of their old days. At times they actively avoid it, or simply act oblivious to it, and yet wander into its embrace all the same. The nostalgic tug toward past favorites is so strong that sometimes, we give in to it without realizing our own nostalgia. That’s the experience of listening to The Modern Age, a decidedly retro album from Britpop band Sleeper, their first after 22 years of radio silence following their 1998 split. It’s the late 2010s. Everything old is new again. Bands ranging from Jump, Little Children to Art Brut have all dropped fresh music after years-long breaks. So Sleeper’s just getting in on everyone else’s action, really, literally getting the band back together to churn out new tracks and bring their sound from the ‘90s to 2019. Frankly, their reunion is welcome. What The Modern Age lacks in durability and ingenuity it makes up for with a fistful of ear worms that burrow straight into the audience’s brain center. The record’s incredibly listenable. For the most part, it’s remarkably upbeat, often cheery, or at least that’s the feeling frontwoman Louise Wener means to convey; “The Sun Also Rises,” “Paradise Waiting,” and “Car into the Sea,” among others, are just as likely to inspire spontaneous dance as they are deep thought, but the former’s effect is stronger than the latter’s. The Modern Age is a record to get down to. Most of all it’s a terrific comeback for a band that rose to fame and flamed out much too quickly. —Andy Crump

9. Hand Habits: placeholder
Rating 7.7

placeholder wishes people were on the same wavelength, but unfortunately, it’s just never that simple. Hand Habits’ second LP sees Meg Duffy illustrating the messiness of relationships—paralyzing emotions, romanticized memories, questions of forgiveness and everything in between. After their self-produced and self-recorded debut album Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void), the singer/songwriter and former Kevin Morby guitarist brought their second album to a studio with a group of collaborators—giving placeholder more sonic weight. The biggest weight bearers are Duffy’s sweet harmonies and lyrical meditations on queer relationships and the deep human complexities that can make or break any type of relationship. placeholder fills the emotional gaps that so many other relationship records leave untouched. Meg Duffy’s humble, comforting vocals will help cushion the blow that will inevitably come with any relationship, and their poetic aptitude results in a record that’s just as therapeutic and affecting on the written page as it is in sung form. —Lizzie Manno

8. Y La Bamba: Mujeres
Rating 7.9

There have always been elements of traditional Mexican music in the songs of Y La Bamba. They’re frequently wrapped in a folky indie-pop package that’s practically shorthand for Portland, Oregon, the band’s hometown. This time around, mastermind Luz Elena Mendoza peels away much of that accompaniment—the luminous guitars and lush synths—in favor of a more rhythmic approach that gives this album a sharper edge. No wonder: Y La Bamba’s fifth LP is informed by Mendoza’s experience as a Mexican-American woman at a time when that experience can seem like a radical statement of self. Mujeres (Spanish for “women”) is, at heart, a musical accounting of Mendoza’s search for identity. Even as she’s searching for her place in a broader cultural context, Mendoza is creating her own. She embraces her heritage without letting it bind her, while blending the disparate worlds of indie-rock and Mexican folk music into a vibrant and distinctive sound all her own—one that makes Mujeres Y La Bamba’s most uncompromising album. Given her willingness to challenge what makes her uncomfortable, and to channel her discomfort into music at once pointed and alluring, it’s also the group’s most compelling work yet. —Eric R. Danton

7. Indoor Pets: Be Content
Rating 7.9

British four-piece Indoor Pets signed to Wichita Recordings for the release of their debut album Be Content—a return to the unironically anthemic pop/rock choruses of the 2000’s. Their scruffy, streamlined guitar pop takes sonic references from The Hives, ‘00s pop-punk and Weezer, but Indoor Pets contain an extra spoonful or two of pop sugar. Tracks like “Hi” and “Being Strange” are obvious melodic pop high points, but side one has particularly tough competition with the jolting rock number “Thick,” bubblegum pop tune “Teriyaki” and the intensely exuberant “Spill My Guts.” Be Content appears front-loaded at first because the first seven tracks swing for the colossal chorus fences, but the back half contains nearly as many sky-high pop hooks, although some are less satisfying. And for all the sugary content, there’s almost always a gritty counterpunch running parallel or in the rearview mirror. Moments like Glass’ extended, earth-shattering yelps on “Barbiturates” and the fuzzy, siren-like guitar breakdown on “Pro Procrastinator” are the rambunctious rock ‘n’ roll ying to the album’s syrupy pop yang. Be Content will make millennials nostalgic for uplifting power chord pop, and as long as Indoor Pets are writing infectious hooks and melodies like these, it might just make Generation Z want to run to the nearest guitar store. —Lizzie Manno

6. Tim O’Brien: Tim O’Brien Band
Rating 8.0

With more than 30 albums under his belt, collected under a panoply of different bands and projects, it’s not as if there’s anything more to prove in the bluegrass world, as far as Tim O’Brien is concerned. He’s worked with every legend, and mentored practically every legend in the making for the last two decades. He’s performed at every venue that would ever put a bluegrass band on stage. And he’s written a ridiculous number of songs along the way. And yet, Tim O’Brien persists. At 64-years-old, he keeps right on plucking those banjo strings, and he keeps churning out the new tunes. In recent years and recent albums (2015’s Pompadour, 2017’s Where The River Meets the Road), those tunes have increasingly felt a bit rote, and perhaps O’Brien has been aware of this feeling of entropy. For whatever reason, he returns to us now in 2019 with the first offering from a project both technically new and comfortingly familiar: The simply titled Tim O’Brien Band. Flanked by collaborators Mike Bub, Shad Cobb, Jan Fabricus, Patrick Sauber and Bryan Sutton, they’ve crafted a shared collection of songs that benefit less from sonic exploration and more from air-tight execution. We have to ultimately tip our caps to the guy—the world keeps turning, and O’Brien finds a way to turn with it. Perhaps that’s what he’s try to evoke by inserting a reprise of the 2008 song “Crooked Road,” which makes reference to the day when O’Brien will finally “say goodbye.” Given his output here, we hope that day is still comfortably far off. —Jim Vorel

5. The Coathangers: The Devil You Know
Rating 8.1

There have always been angry women in music, but these days, an album like The Devil You Know feels like dressing a wound on the battlefield—exactly what you need in order to carry on the fight. It is angry but never ugly, melodic without ever being syrupy, addressing gun violence, street harassment and more, all without ever becoming overbearing or preachy. Right off the top, “Bimbo” sets the tone, a hard-candy contrast between guitarist Julie Kugel’s sweeter vocal stylings and Stephanie Luke’s Johnette Napolitano-esque growl. Don’t be fooled by the honey-coated harmonies – these girls are not here to be simply listened to. They’ve got a world to save. More political than party, songs like “Hey Buddy,” mark the girls in a position to use their stage as a soapbox, taking on catcallers, street preachers and the entire lot of people who condemn people for just trying to live their lives, whether they’ve got on a short skirt or are holding hands as a same sex couple. “It ain’t me/it is only your fear.” The Devil You Know is striving to be an an immensely inclusive record; advocating for anyone who needs advocating for, rather than just themselves. Maybe there will be a day when we don’t need songs telling the NRA to “suck my dick.” But until then The Devil You Know masterfully walks the line between politically charged while remaining , perhaps tragically, timeless. But it’s also an immensely listenable album, a fully realized emerging of the band’s true power in crafting edgy, electric songs. —Libby Cudmore

4. Nilüfer Yanya: Miss Universe
Rating 8.1

Style over substance is never a smart method for making art, and London based singer/songwriter Nilüfer Yanya masterfully obliterates that concept on her debut album, Miss Universe. With an album that borders on soul, pop, jazz and rock, Yanya is far too preoccupied with her inner demons and unique artistry to quibble over what one particular genre her music most closely resembles. In a current musical climate ruled by increased musical accessibility from streaming and in a world where so many people struggle with mental health, Miss Universe is a post-genre attempt at self-care that feels needed. This is an emotionally multi-faceted album to luxuriate in. Whether you take solace in her sultry, rich voice, instrumentals that range from bubbly to rugged or become invested in her confessional storytelling, Nilüfer Yanya’s Miss Universe can be easily enjoyed during a night out or night in. There are exultant singalongs (“In Your Head,” “Heavyweight Champion of the World”), luscious, bittersweet slow-burners (“Melt,” “Safety Net”), and sometimes humorous, sometimes alarming spoken-word interludes, which cultivate a transcendent alternate reality (“WWAY HEALTH,” “Sparkle GOD HELP ME,” “Experience?”). It’s an angsty LP concerned with entrapment, fear and expectations versus reality. Perhaps most triumphantly, Yanya pulls off jazz-infused, scrappy guitar pop with much more emotional and musical nuance than the buzzy, male-dominated “sad boi” acts like Rex Orange County or other beanie-donning dudes with keyboards and Stratocasters. —Lizzie Manno

3. Jenny Lewis: On The Line
Rating 8.1

To witness a shape-shifting musician like Jenny Lewis truly evolve throughout the years—succeed in multiple projects, try on manifold musical styles, experience pain and loss and outline it all in her songs—and then arrive at a sensational album like On The Line feels monumental. First as the frontwoman of one of the most beloved indie-rock groups of the aughts and then as a realized soloist and supergroup hero, Lewis has had a brilliant career, even when things took a turn for the rocky in her personal life. The best of her four albums outside of Rilo Kiley, On The Line is absolutely dazzling. It sounds decidedly grown up, mature both lyrically and musically, and it’s a spectacular studio effort. Lewis sings contemplative lyrics with a glamorous edge, giving us an album that’s as much a rock ‘n’ roll relaxer as it is a lyrical thunderbolt. The On the Line singles are all illustrious earworms, but the album opener, “Heads Gonna Roll,” is especially grandiose. As ever, Lewis’ attention to detail and location is mesmerizing. She makes a boxing reference, namedrops Elliott Smith and the “sycophants in Marrakesh,” recalls a run-in with “Harlem nuns” and relaxes with a pack of Marlboros all before proclaiming, “Maybe a little bit of hooking up is good for the soul.” In a most delightful way, “Heads Gonna Roll” is about everything and nothing. Another single, “Red Bull & Hennessy,” is one of the best rock songs of the year so far. Marking at least the second mention of cocktail ingredients on this album, “Red Bull & Hennessy” is a delicious display of desire. On The Line, her best solo work to date, finds her trading chaos for peace and pain for parties. And West Coast rock combined with piano glam and Lewis’ lyrics makes for a most celebratory listen, indeed. —Ellen Johnson

2. Ex Hex: It’s Real
Rating 8.5

Whoever Mary Timony’s singing to on It’s Real, Ex Hex’s sophomore follow up to 2014’s Rips, they’ve taken her on one dizzying rollercoaster ride. From start to end, It’s Real warps around “you,” more than likely the same person all the way through the record’s track list; Timony sings the same yearning for “you” on the opening song, “Tough Enough,” and on “Good Times,” “Want It to Be True,” all the way to “Talk to Me,” where Timony appeals to her nameless audience to grant her the simple courtesy of a conversation. Following It’s Real’s unifying thread is a complex task. The music, granted, isn’t as complex, in the sense that the music itself requires no moralizing for engagement: It’s great, unqualified awesomeness soaked in ‘80s and ‘90s rock ‘n roll, echoing anyone and everyone from Joan Jett to Sleater-Kinney to Scorpions and even to Tsunami Bomb. But here rests the line of delineation. Folks who don’t appreciate an aesthetic planted firmly in the eras of grunge and Camaro rock likely won’t change their tune on hearing It’s Real’s stomping power-pop stylings (assuming they’re generous enough to give it a shot in the first place). People who read that description as a promise of Good Times, on the other hand, will embrace It’s Real as Ex Hex’s return to the modern day rock ecosystem. —Andy Crump

1. Ryan Dugré: The Humors
Rating 8.7

Guitarist Ryan Dugré’s second solo full-length The Humors seems as much of a reaction to the work that he does as a freelance player as it does to the sound and mood of his first LP Gardens. In the former case, he’s been called upon to lend his talents to the upbeat and often-knotty material by artists like Eleanor Friedberger and Rubblebucket. By comparison the 10 tracks on Humors feel like taking a refreshing breath of cool air after miles of riding in a car with no A/C. Dugré’s melodic lines are clean and direct, making gentle use of reverb and effects lest he muddy the message he is trying to convey. He also leaves plenty of empty space to better allow for the notes and chords to hang in the atmosphere before bounding along. This is an album that rewards patient, active listening to hear the little details like the small electric guitar chug that arrives like a night blooming flower at the end of “Wild Common” or the little bits of ambient noise that pop up throughout to remind you of the human hands responsible for these lovely instrumentals. For as open and spare as it is, Humors is lush in comparison to his previous album. Gardens was a showcase for Dugré’s guitar alone while here the music is fleshed out with additional instruments. —Robert Ham

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