If you’re still catching up from the onslaught of excellent releases last month (Sleater-Kinney! Mark Ronson! Belle and Sebastian! Panda Bear!), consider February a bit of breather. Not to say there aren’t great albums coming out this month, but the releases aren’t quite as monocultural as January’s. There are a lot of growers this month. Give these ones a listen.
Bob Dylan — Shadows in the Night (February 3, Columbia)
Bob Dylan has done and seen and been everything to everyone at this point in his career — except a crooner of standards. Presumably, he figured, “Why the hell not?” and went for a mostly traditional take on Sinatra’s Great American Songbook. Shadows in the Night should be of interest to fans of Leonard Cohen’s late career work, but it’s also worth a listen just to hear Dylan’s ravaged vocals do something weird to all those early 20th century works of polite beauty.
Father John Misty — I Love You, Honeybear (February 10, Sub Pop/Bella Union)
After leaving Fleet Foxes, singer-songwriter J. Tillman re-emerged in 2012 as Father John Misty with Fear Fun. It proved to be one of the year’s best folk-rock albums, balancing dark humor with sobering earnestness, pop hooks with delicate beauty. By contrast, I Love You, Honeybear is a more conceptual journey exploring the narcissism, rapture, and misery of falling in love through meta narrative. With its easy swagger, dreamy slide guitar, and stunning strings, I Love You, Honeybear is a satisfying listen that transcends its lofty goals.
Rhiannon Giddens — Tomorrow Is My Turn (February 10, Nonesuch)
A traditional covers album as an artist’s debut seems like an amateur move, but not when Rhiannon Giddens is involved. The singer, violinist, and banjo player from Carolina Chocolate Drops talks back to the folk, country, and blues classics she subtly reworks on Tomorrow Is My Turn, which range from Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” to Nina Simone’s take on the title track. T-Bone Burnett, undoubtedly the perfect producer for this kind of work, helps Giddens’ expressive voice stay on equal footing with her large and lively band. (Tomorrow Is My Turn is streaming now via NPR.)
Quarterbacks — Quarterbacks (February 10, Team Love)
None of the 19 songs on the self-titled debut from New Paltz, New York act Quarterbacks cracks the two-minute mark — not even the album’s sole ballad, “Knicks.” But as the Minutemen proved decades ago, short songs can be capable of conveying nuanced ideas. Quarterbacks race against themselves to prove this concept, again and again. For the most part, they win, thanks to the emotion inherent in their songs’ old-school emo vibe. I mean, what did you expect from a punk band covered by NPR?
Estelle — True Romance (February 17, BMG)
While Estelle’s big claim to fame was her classic 2008 duet with Kanye West, “American Boy,” the British singer has been offering up playful, hip-hop-inspired R&B ever since. Her fourth album, True Romance, is exceptionally sexy and heartfelt, from the “Partition”-esque sentiment behind “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)” to “Conquer,” which takes the power ballad concept to new heights. R&B has become a genre for experimentation in recent years. This is something Estelle nods to at times while doing her thing, which is ultimately more like Mary J. Blige before her Disclosure team-up than after.
José González — Vestiges & Claws (February 17, Mute)
For his first new album in seven years, Swedish strummer José González made clarity of expression his number one goal. Considering some of the songs were recorded in his kitchen, there’s a stunning clarity and depth here rarely found in lo-fi acoustic music. González explores Big Ideas about life and death with a light touch, at times incorporating world music elements (Brazilian music, Afropop) to keep things moving.
Kate Pierson — Guitars and Microphones (February 17, Lazy Meadow/Kobalt)
Certainly you can hear The B-52s in the first solo album from one of the band’s singers, Kate Pierson, but the legendary band’s campy swag is not what defines Guitars and Microphones. “Bottoms Up,” one of several songs featuring Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi, sounds like a ’60s girlgroup gunning for Julian Casablancas’ job. “Bring Your Arms” positions Pierson’s iconic vocals in the framework of ’60s psych. Pierson may not be the trendsetter she once was, but the Sia-produced Guitars and Microphones sounds far more modern than the recent work of Pierson’s peers.
Screaming Females — Rose Mountain (February 24, Don Giovanni)
Ugly — the 2012 album from Screaming Females, one of modern punk’s most consistent acts — was not exactly a light listen, but the more folk-punk parts of it were at least less punishing. The Jersey trio goes a different route this time around, in an attempt to add variety on a handful of songs: ’60s pop hooks and some of leader Marissa Paternoster’s sweetest vocals to date. Luckily, the bulk of Rose Mountain is tough — Motorhead riffs kind of tough.
Dan Deacon — Gliss Riffer (February 24, Domino)
Dance-floor weirdo Dan Deacon has a formidable body of work that’s culminated in high art projects (Carnegie Hall performance, Francis Ford Coppola score, orchestral compositions) in recent years. For Gliss Riffer, Deacon simplified his process, self-producing and relying on a new tool: his voice. Deacon’s vocals, which range from robots calling from the future to the high-pitched voice of a woman, are more visible than ever, yet they blend in as just another tool for Deacon’s hyper-speed experimentation.
THEEsatisfaction — EarthEE (February 24, Sub Pop)
Seattle’s THEEsatisfaction are, in many ways, Shabazz Palaces’ cosmic other half. Where Shabazz Palaces’ second album of intergalactic rap, last year’s Lese Majesty, left listeners unsettled, THEEsatisfaction’s sophomore LP is defined by its warmth. Stas and Cat, the duo behind the group, are simultaneously playful and pro-consciousness in their futuristic blend of vocal R&B, alt hip-hop, and dance music.
Also out this month:
Mount Eerie — Sauna (February 3, P.W. Elverum & Sun)
Phil Elverum returns with a dark new set inspired by, in his words, “Vikings and zen and real life.”
William Ryan Fritch — Revisionist (February 10, Lost Tribe Sound)
Orchestral folk that rattles you to the core with its massive beauty.
Mourn — Mourn (February 17, Captured Tracks)
The young Barcelona band offer up a fierce, unfettered debut that does more than synthesize their audible inspirations (PJ Harvey, Pixies).
Sonny and the Sunsets — Talent Night at the Ashram (February 17, Polyvinyl)
Sixties acid-trip freak-folk that’s both safe for work and worthy of a laugh.
Gang of Four — What Happens Next (February 24, Metropolis/Membran)
The influential post-punks find a new groove with mostly raucous results.
Ghostface Killah / BADBADNOTGOOD — Sour Soul (February 24, Lex)
Your far-out rap pick for the month.