The 10 Albums You Need to Hear in February

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After a fallow couple of months, the music industry is, like the Death Star, fully operational again — and that means there’s a heap of new music to hear. As ever, we’ve combed the release schedules for the ten albums that we reckon will be worth hearing over the next four weeks, along with a roundup of everything else of note, be it good, bad or somewhere in between. This month’s marquee release is probably the new St. Vincent record, but there’s also everything from Sunn 0))) and Ulver’s suitably terrifying doom/black metal hybrid to the off-kilter pop of Cibo Matto. Read on, and let us know what’s on your shopping list.

Marissa Nadler — July (February 4)

Apparently Marissa Nadler nearly gave up music entirely in the period before making this album. Thank goodness she didn’t, because she’s one of the most distinctive and beautiful voices in music today, and this might be the best thing she’s done yet. The record’s out via Brooklyn institution Sacred Bones, and as befitting her new home, the songs here are darker than anything Nadler’s recorded before, based around sparse guitar figures and a distinctly ominous tone. The album’s streaming at NPR right now, and it’s worth checking out.

Sunn 0))) and Ulver — Terrestrials (February 4)

And while we’re discussing dark music, here we find cloaked doom metal overlords Sunn 0))) working with Norwegian black metal stalwarts Ulver. The results are… well, they’re pretty much what you’d expect, to be honest, i.e. music that sounds like it should be soundtracking the final descent into hell in some terrifying movie. It’s great, in other words.

Sun Kil Moon — Benji (February 4)

Mark Kozelek has been on a tear of late — he released a Sun Kil Moon album (the excellent On the Shore in 2012), a solo album with Desertshore last October, and now, not even six months later, he’s back with another Sun Kil Moon record. From what I’ve heard so far, the album’s great. It seems deeply rooted in Kozelek’s personal history, although many of the songs catalog his experience through the lens of pop culture: reflections on growing older via contemplation of Led Zeppelin (“I Watched the Film ‘The Song Remains the Same'”), reflections on youth via the passing of a once-feared killer (“Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes”), an existential crisis at a Postal Service reunion show (“Ben’s My Friend”). The technique is interesting, and the result is some of Kozelek’s best songwriting yet.

Mark McGwire — Along the Way (February 4)

McGwire’s previous project Emeralds were responsible for some of the most pleasantly cerebral electronic music of recent years, so it’s a pleasure to see that he’s bounced back quickly from the demise of that band to put out a solo record. Where Emeralds were the product of the digital realm, there’s a pleasingly organic sound to this album. It feels like something that should accompany a walk through the woods in the spring, possibly with the assistance of certain mushrooms that grow around that time of the year.

Xiu Xiu — Angel Guts: Red Classroom (February 4)

Really, only Jamie Stewart could release a record with a title like that, eh?

Tinariwen — Enmaar (February 11)

Tinariwen’s story pretty much sells itself: founded in a Tuareg refugee camp, populated by members who spent time together in a Gaddafi-funded militia, and now the most unlikely of global world music stars. In amongst all this, it’s easy to lose sight of fact that their music is also wonderful — their patented brand of desert blues is as atmospheric and evocative as ever, and this album seems particularly timely given the ongoing conflict in the band’s home country of Mali (a subject they address repeatedly on this record, apparently).

Cibo Matto — Hotel Valentine (February 14)

They’re probably best remembered for providing the inspiration for one of Michel Gondry’s all-time best music videos, but Cibo Matto were really rather good, and it was excellent to see them getting back together a couple of years ago after a decade-long hiatus. This is their first album since the reunion, and from what I’ve heard so far, it sounds as strangely wonderful as the band’s previous work. Hurrah.

Tacocat — NVM (February 25)

Pop-punk has become something of a dirty word — you can’t blame me, I’m not part of the generation that grew up with inexplicably fond memories of Blink-182 — but Tacocat’s oeuvre shows that exuberant and lighthearted punk can still be great if it’s not done by Californians singing about their dicks. Instead, Tacocat essay such subjects as their epic vaporizer, building a bridge to Hawaii, and, um, the politics of surfing the crimson wave (the last of which has given rise to at least one erudite essay).

St. Vincent — St. Vincent (February 25)

New hair! More synths! Yay!

Neneh Cherry — Blank Project (February 25)

And finally, the return of Neneh Cherry. This is her first solo record in 16 years, believe it or not, and it’s produced by Four Tet. All the stuff Cherry’s done of late has been interesting — especially her collaborative record from last year with Swedish avant-jazz types The Thing — and I’m very much looking forward to hearing this. There’s one song featuring guest vocals from Robyn, too.

Also out this month:

Maximo Park — Too Much Information (February 4) A decade on, it still seems strange that this band is signed to Warp.

Broken Bells — After the Disco (February 4) More interesting than The Shins these days, I fear.

Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang — Four Foot Shack (February 4) Release the bass!

Temples — Sun Structure (February 11) British neo-psych hopefuls. Potential, perhaps — from what I’ve heard thus far, the album is rather uninspiring, sadly.

Band of Horses — Acoustic at the Ryman (February 11) Alt-country types visit spiritual home.

Neil Finn — Dizzy Heights (February 11) New Zealand represent!

Guided by Voices — Motivational Jumpsuit (February 11) It’s not a proper month if there isn’t at least one Robert Pollard-related release.

I Killed the Prom Queen — Beloved (February 11) The worst thing about this band is that we don’t even have proms in Australia. They’re called “formals.” Make it stop.

Angel Olsen — Burn Your Fire For No Witness (February 18) If you’re into reflective country-tinged songwriting, all realized in a pretty remarkable voice, then you’ll like this a lot.

Wild Beasts — Present Tense (February 25) As fey and dramatic as ever, if new single “Wanderlust” (above) is anything to go by.