Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Mike Milosh of Rhye (Photo: Stefan Hoederath/Redferns via Getty Images), Kendrick Lamar (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images), and Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females (Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage via Getty Images). Graphic: Natalie Peeples.

The 28 most-anticipated albums of February

Mike Milosh of Rhye (Photo: Stefan Hoederath/Redferns via Getty Images), Kendrick Lamar (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images), and Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females (Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage via Getty Images). Graphic: Natalie Peeples.

The year in music was off to a promising start thanks to January’s many great new albums. And with planned releases from the likes of U.S. Girls, Rhye, and The Soft Moon—not to mention the hotly anticipated Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther soundtrack—February looks to continue that trend. Here are the new records we’re most excited to hear this month.

February 2

Field Music, Open Here

On its seventh full-length, Open Here, art-pop duo Field Music branches out, welcoming new musicians like multi-instrumentalist Sarah Hayes and Memphis Industries label mates The Cornshed Sisters to its usual stable of collaborators. Fresh off the Brexit vote, the Sunderland natives wrote the album as a means to connect with others and push themselves creatively in this time of increasing isolation and uncertainty. Singles like “Count It Up” and “Time In Joy” show Peter and David Brewis adapting their ’80s synth-pop influences to these purposes, building a refuge in their bouncing rhythms for community and experimentation, for openness. [Kelsey J. Waite]

Hookworms, Microshift

The third album from Leeds, England quintet Hookworms is titled Microshift—an understatement, it turns out, considering the tectonic changes within. While the band still plies a concentrated blast of psychedelic drone and fuzz over motorik rhythms, a sound heavily indebted to shoegaze-and-krautrock blending forebears like Stereolab and Loop, anthemic lead single “Negative Space” announces a significant step forward, in dance-friendly four-on-the-floor time. Lead singer MJ is still plumbing the depths of anxiety and depression in his impassioned wails, but here he does it over a disco beat and burbles of synthesizer, the song building to a pure, MDMA euphoria. It has the potential to be a major breakthrough for the underground (for now) favorite. [Sean O’Neal]

Rhye, Blood

Rhye’s first album, Woman, was a sinuous, masterfully crafted 30 minutes or so of adult-as-hell pop music, smelting a heavy Sade influence into something almost ambient in its appeal. The defining element of the music is mononymous singer Milosh’s haunted androgynous contralto, which floats above the impeccable arrangements and sighs along the various ghostly woodwinds and synthesizers that give the spare, elegant tracks their form. The new Blood is being touted as a record inspired by the band’s live performances, and early singles seem slightly more corporeal, if still drawn from the same inimitable well. [Clayton Purdom]

Simple Minds, Walk Between Worlds

Simple Minds might have The Breakfast Club to thank for its most recognized hit here in the U.S., but the Scottish rockers have been hard at work recording tons of material throughout the 33 years since “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” Walk Between Worlds marks the band’s 18th album and its first collection of completely new material in four years. But as usual, what’s old is new again, with lead single “The Signal And The Noise” sounding like it could’ve come straight out of the band’s successful synth-pop days. [Matt Gerardi]

Steve Reich, Pulse/Quartet

It’s been 55 years since Steve Reich released his first recordings, a half-century-plus in which he’s been able to witness his minimalist experiments with phasing and looping inspire several generations of avant-garde composers, electronic musicians, and even rock bands. Incredibly, the 81-year-old is still far from retirement. His new album, Pulse/Quartet, collects two recent compositions performed by, respectively, the International Contemporary Ensemble and the Colin Currie Group, each representing a different facet of Reich’s mathematical approach. Pulse is “a calmer more contemplative piece” written for a large ensemble of winds, strings, and electric bass, while Quartet is a complex, frantically shifting work for two pianos and percussionists. Both promise to be as sparkling and entrancing as everything else Reich has set his unique mind to. [Sean O’Neal]

The Soft Moon, Criminal

Luis Vasquez’s fourth album as The Soft Moon is billed as a “confessional work,” owing to lyrics inspired by his still-lingering guilt, pain, and anger over a particularly turbulent childhood. For fans of his haunted sound—all strobe lights and serrated edges that recall the classic gothic bite of bands like Nine Inch Nails and Pornography-era The Cure—nothing could be more exciting. Lead single “Burn” gives you a good idea of those dark times ahead, a lacerating, industrial-tinged number that finds Vasquez seething, “I can’t control myself,” over a blitzkrieg of bleeding synth tones and propulsive bass. [Sean O’Neal]

Justin Timberlake, Man Of The Woods

Justin Timberlake announced his new record with rustic, Western imagery and big talk about how the record would pull from his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Was JT going country? Not a fucking chance. The first two singles trade in the same tired, high-gloss funk as his pair of 20/20 Experience albums. Still, Timberlake does have two great pop records under his belt (2002’s Justified and 2006’s FutureSex/Lovesounds), and he surrounds himself with the best producers money can buy, and he’s still a particularly charismatic star. Here’s hoping that Man Of The Woods isn’t anything like what we’ve heard from it so far. [Clayton Purdom]

Wing Vilma, Safe By Night

For fans of ethereal post-rock fusions of organic and electronic sounds, Wing Vilma steps confidently into the gap between Boards Of Canada and Caribou, with a nice layer of early Tortoise sprinkled into the mix. The brainchild of Miles Coleman, a Michigan native who combines found sounds with his homemade percussion and digitally manipulated melodies, Wing Vilma offers a brainy instrumental stew, gauzy and ambient without sacrificing attention-grabbing rhythms and experimental ellipses of sound. Safe By Night is the work of a confident and assured talent who, at a mere 19 years old, is just getting started. [Alex McLevy]

Young Echo, Young Echo

On 2013’s Nexus, the very loose Bristol collective known as Young Echo offered up a fascinating, if slightly uneven compilation that captured the range of dark ambient, grime, and dubstep practiced by breakout members like Vessel and Ishan Sound—a sound united mostly by its feeling of late-night, lost-in-the-Tube-station alienation. The group’s 11 members reconvene after five independently fruitful years for this self-titled follow-up, one that welcomes “new energy” in the form of vocalists like Jabu’s Jasmine and Manonmars, but promises more of the same “detuned soundsystem stylings, love songs swaying in hacked-up ambience, skeletal dancehall, microphone technique, dread electronics,” and other transmissions from the 2 a.m. stillness. [Sean O’Neal]

February 9

Franz Ferdinand, Always Ascending

The press materials around Always Ascending reflect just how hard Franz Ferdinand took the departure of guitarist-keyboardist Nick McCarthy, who chose family life over the dance-rock band in 2015. Briefly adrift, Franz Ferdinand quickly rebounded, adding keyboardist Julian Corrie and guitarist Dino Bardot, then hitting the studio with Philippe Zdar (Cassius, The Rapture, Phoenix). “Nothing short of a rebirth,” says the press release, while “Feel The Love Go” video director Diane Martel raves that the “new incarnation of the band is perfection.” That’s overstating it, but Always Ascending aims to recreate the energy of Franz Ferdinand’s debut, and boasts a lot of what made that album inescapable. [Kyle Ryan]

Son Lux, Brighter Wounds

With multi-disciplinary artist and composer Ryan Lott at the helm, Son Lux has taken on many forms throughout its 10-year existence, from minimalist electronic folk to synthetic chamber pop to frantic hip-hop-tinged opera, all of it with Lott’s fragile, quivering voice at the center. If lead single “Dream State,” an ever-shifting belter with an area-pop center, is any indication, this fifth album looks to be just as hard to pin down. [Matt Gerardi]

John Tejada, Dead Start Program

Electronic artist John Tejada is renowned for his pristine production and archivist’s knowledge of technology, so it only makes sense that his new album for Kompakt, Dead Start Program, takes its name from the obscure bit of software that was used to launch a 1960s supercomputer. Fortunately, Tejada’s music has more human vibrancy in it than his gear fetishism suggests. Opening track “Autoseek” has a shuffling, syncopated rhythm that wavers just this side of being out of time before it finally locks into your brain, with Tejada unfolding simple arpeggiated patterns and warped stutters around it. [Sean O’Neal]

Various artists, Black Panther: The Album

It’s not often that we cover soundtracks in our monthly music previews, but Black Panther: The Album is a different beast. Produced by Kendrick Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment CEO Anthony Tiffith, the soundtrack will feature a mix of curated tracks and multiple original songs created specifically for the film, a first for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If the early glimpses are any indication—the slick lead single “All The Stars,” the mysterious Kendrick Lamar-Vince Staples collaboration, and the authoritative “King’s Dead”—the album will offer a lot to get excited about. [Baraka Kaseko]

February 16

Belle & Sebastian, How To Solve Our Human Problems Part 3

The final installment in Belle & Sebastian’s new trilogy of EPs—a welcome throwback to the three extended-play releases that cemented the Glaswegian pop group’s legend 20 years ago—comes to no definitive conclusions about the dilemmas vexing humankind. It does, however, contain How To Solve Our Human Problems’ widest variety of textures and styles, from the slinky disco of “Poor Boy” to the pastoral folk of “There Is An Everlasting Song.” “Everything Is Now (Part Two)” is a glimmering reprise that functions like an end theme for the whole enterprise (even if it’s only the second track on part three), Stuart Murdoch touching once more on dashed hopes, missed connections, and music’s ability to salve the most searing of human problems. [Erik Adams]

Car Seat Headrest, Twin Fantasy

Car Seat Headrest’s prolific, prodigious Will Toledo follows up Teens Of Denial, one of The A.V. Club’s top 20 albums of 2016, with a complete re-recording of self-released fan favorite Twin Fantasy. As Toledo tells it, the indie-rock album of youthful exuberance, first recorded in 2011 when he was just 19, was never meant to be the final version, and here a full band expands its scrappy, DIY fuzz into a more fully realized work. Cleaner while avoiding a too-slick studio polish—those dense layers of guitar and spoken recordings are still intact—Twin Fantasy heightens its kinetic outbursts to anthemic, often epic proportions. [Laura Adamczyk]

Brandi Carlile, By The Way, I Forgive You

Brandi Carlile made her mark in the world of alt-country with 2007’s magnificent epic “The Story.” Nothing previewed so far for her new album, By The Way, I Forgive You appears to reach those considerable heights, but there’s plenty for fans of story songs augmented with warbly vocals and chunky guitar. The title track is a life-shifting acceptance of the past, and while “The Joke” could have been more effective with a hook half as good as “The Story,” the “hang in there” anthem is quietly transcendent (“You get discouraged, don’t you, girl? / It’s your brother’s world for a while longer”). Still, “Sugartooth” looks like the breakout winner so far, a tragic song fueled by loss and anger. [Gwen Ihnat]

Fischerspooner, Sir

As the vanguard act of the fleeting “electroclash” movement, Fischerspooner took New York and beyond in the early aughts with its theatrical approach to slick, seedy synth-pop (and one of Wire’s best songs). The duo’s first album in a decade arrives right on schedule for Meet Me In The Bathroom-inspired nostalgia, but vocalist and lead songwriter Casey Spooner has something much more timely on his mind: Sir is being positioned, naturally, as a response to the Trump era, an outré celebration of homosexuality that’s also very personal, in that it was produced by Spooner’s former lover, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe—and according to the press materials, even recorded in the very house where they first consummated their relationship. The new video for “TopBrazil” embodies those overtly sexual themes in its provocative imagery, which Spooner says “liberates the male form to be sexual, expressive, and fearless.” [Sean O’Neal]

Ought, Room Inside The World

Ought songs don’t fit together right. They’re all frayed edges and barbed wire, meandering countryside drives pockmarked with industrial ruins. The Montreal four-piece makes challenging post-punk songs that often stretch well past five minutes, but they’re full of giddy hooks, ecstatic climaxes, and punchy jokes. The new Room Inside The World is the group’s first in three years, and while lead single “These 3 Things” has a cleaner timbre and notably funky pulse, place no bets on the rest of the album sounding that way. These are songs designed to surprise. [Clayton Purdom]

Poliça/Stargaze, Music For The Long Emergency

Those who come to this release looking for a new Poliça album are bound to be disappointed. But for those looking for something a little more challenging and unexpected, this collaboration between the synth-pop band and the European orchestral collective promises to deliver a wide-ranging and sonically adventurous experiment between two very different artistic impulses. The nearly 10-minute leadoff single, “How Is This Happening,” suggests a moody, ambient project, but the record actually covers a lot of stylistic ground, from the gently minimalist to the frenetically distorted and explosive. In other words, it’s a pretty good attempt at capturing the aural equivalent of moments of hope and inspiration in dark times—exactly the intent of the groups when they came together. [Alex McLevy]

U.S. Girls, In A Poem Unlimited

Meg Remy’s experimental U.S. Girls project has been teetering closer and closer to popdom with every new album, finally breaking through with 2015’s Half Free, her excellent debut for 4AD. But where even that leap forward was drenched in hazy electronic loops, Remy’s follow-up, In A Poem Unlimited, gives her the power of a live band. Between the protest disco of “Mad As Hell” and the domestic-violence revenge funk of “Velvet 4 Sale,” it’s already shaping up to be a subversive use of pristine pop tropes to deliver poignant, righteous messages. [Matt Gerardi]

Superchunk, What A Time To Be Alive

Joining the tide of artistic reactions to the Trump era crashing on the shores of pop culture is What A Time To Be Alive, the startlingly fierce 11th album from the long-running indie-rock institution. The rawest Superchunk album since its 1989 debut, What A Time To Be Alive makes no effort to hide its rage—see the record’s bitterly ironic title—but still wraps it in catchy hooks. Superchunk’s second act, which began after a hiatus with 2010’s Majesty Shredding, continues to surprise and deliver the goods. [Kyle Ryan]

Marlon Williams, Make Way For Love

New Zealander Marlon Williams writes timeless folk and rock ’n’ roll songs to match his Roy Orbison-like croon. Although his self-titled debut earned him the label “country” more than any other, sophomore LP Make Way For Love looks to broaden the songwriter’s palette and deepen the personal element of his work by frankly exploring a breakup. Lead single “Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore” is one of the year’s best so far—a shape-shifting, slow-burning rocker that finds Williams sharing reverb-drenched, psych-pop harmonies with his ex, 2017 folk breakout Aldous Harding. For fans of Angel Olsen, Elvis Presley, The Mamas & The Papas, and the like. [Kelsey J. Waite]

February 23

Dessa, Chime

Nearly five years have elapsed since Parts Of Speech, Dessa’s last full-length release, and in the interim, the multi-hyphenate (singer, rapper, spoken word artist, former CEO of the Doomtree hip-hop collective/business) has been busy. Performing with the Minnesota Orchestra, hosting a public television show, writing a travel piece for The New York Times Magazine—all of it before completing her latest musical meditation on identity and emotions. Her voice has always been a flowing navigation between the personal and political, and this latest release looks to continue that trend—while also being a big swing for the fences of a fully realized (and mainstream-courting) R&B/hip-hop/pop sound. [Alex McLevy]

FRIGS, Basic Behaviour

Following 2016’s buzzed-about EP Slush, Toronto’s FRIGS make their full-length debut via Arts & Craft with 10 eclectic songs. The trio spent years sculpting its sound, and it shows in the ease with which it moves from dreamy goth rock to clanging post-punk to obliterative psych. But what separates FRIGS even further from the pack is frontwoman Bria Salmena’s incredible voice, which will alternately disarm you with a Jana Hunter-like brood then spit at your feet, Patti Smith-style—and that’s to say nothing of her hair-raising yell. If its three excellent singles are any indication, Basic Behaviour will be one of 2018’s strongest debuts. [Kelsey J. Waite]

Mint Field, Pasar De Las Luces

The strength of Mint Field’s homemade 2016 EP, Primeras Salidas, launched Amor Amezcua and Estrella Sánchez onto some of music’s biggest festival stages. The EP’s three songs have been refined and incorporated into full-length debut Pasar De Las Luces, which finds the Tijuana duo staking out its own, distinctly Mexican ground among its shoegaze and dream-pop influences. Atmospheric single “Quiero Otoño De Nuevo,” or “I Want Autumn Again,” would easily drift too far from earth were it not for the driving motorik rhythm holding it all down. [Kelsey J. Waite]

S. Carey, Hundred Acres

Now eight years and multiple releases into his solo career, Sean “S. Carey” Carey has surely outgrown his “best known as Bon Iver’s drummer” shorthand. It remains an apt comparison, though, as much like his old band’s output, his music evolved from austere, painterly folk to something far more lush and carefully composed. Hundred Acres, his third LP, promises to dial the instrumentation back, though as tracks like “Fool’s Gold” show, Carey’s attention to detail remains intact. [Matt Gerardi]

Screaming Females, All At Once

When you’ve got a force of nature as powerful as Screaming Females frontwoman Marissa Paternoster on your team, you don’t change strategies mid-game. That (admittedly tortured) sports metaphor is to say that the band’s new All At Once is another thick slice of head-banging rock ’n’ roll, in the classic Screamales style. Compared to the group’s last album, Rose Mountain, it represents a return to a more bass-heavy, angular musical style, but what lead single “Glass House” lacks in pop hooks, it more than makes up for in muscular riffs. [Katie Rife]

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