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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Ariana Grande, Chaka Khan, and 18 more new albums to keep you warm in February

Ariana Grande, Chaka Khan, and 18 more new albums to keep you warm in February

Photo: LCD Soundsystem (Stefan Hoederath/Redferns/Getty Images), Chaka Khan (Michael Hickey/Getty Images), Ariana Grande (Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Billboard/Getty Images), Graphic: Natalie Peeples

As the wave of spring album announcements continues to build, it’s easy to overlook the solid lineup of releases here to keep us warm in the dead of winter. February brings a ton of great indie music, with Beirut, Girlpool, Cass McCombs, and Panda Bear all returning with new full-lengths. And it’s a particularly strong month for folk singer-songwriters: Tiny Ruins, Jessica Pratt, and Julia Jacklin are all here to help soundtrack the wistful, snowed-in hours. Hip-hop largely remains a waiting game, but otherwise, releases from Ariana Grande, LCD Soundsystem, Mercury Rev, Chaka Khan, and Xiu Xiu give us a lot to look forward to. These are the albums we’re most anticipating in February.

February 1

Beirut, Gallipoli

The title of Beirut’s fifth album, Gallipoli, comes from the name of the Italian town where frontman Zach Condon recorded its last song. As he tells it, one night he and his collaborators “followed a brass band procession fronted by priests carrying a statue of the town’s saint through the winding narrow streets,” and the next day he wrote the song in its entirety. It’s an especially auspicious, Beirut-y backstory, and indeed the song will sound familiar to fans of the group’s early work, conjuring Old World celebration and mourning with noble trumpets, tinkling Farfisa, and crooning vocals. [Laura Adamczyk]

Boy Harsher, Careful

Massachusetts darkwave duo Boy Harsher’s upcoming fourth LP, Careful, is synth pop at its most cathartic, channeling the masochistic intensity of Jae Matthews’ lyrics and sublimating them into Gus Muller’s hedonistic, New Wave-inspired beats. All three singles from the album released so far—the hypnotic “Face The Fire”; the clean, pulsing “Fate”; the debaucherous “LA”—share a similar tension between hatred and desire, pleasure and pain, anger and regret, all longing to be released in the near-religious experience of sweating it out on a smoky, neon-lit dance floor. [Katie Rife]

Girlpool, What Chaos Is Imaginary

Girlpool has built its bruising tunes on the piercing, emphatic dual vocals of Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker. Not everything is as it was on the band’s new LP, however. In advance of the L.A. duo’s third studio album, What Chaos Is Imaginary, Tucker came out as transgender and began hormone replacement therapy, which caused his voice to deepen. “I think the hardest part, I guess, is feeling like my own voice is foreign to me,” Tucker said in a recent interview. What’s exciting, though, is how the new vocal textures give Chaos a freshness that mirrors the band’s expanded sonic palette, which weaves shadowy drum machines and romantic synth swells in with its rip-roaring guitar work. [Randall Colburn]

Le Butcherettes, bi/MENTAL

Le Butcherettes have never shied away from the confrontational and shocking—as frontperson Teri Gender Bender told Denver alt-weekly Westword in 2017, even the band’s name is a subtle “metaphor for female mutilation.” But the band’s penchant for the just plain weird is more evident than ever on its latest album, bi/MENTAL. Sprawling opener “Spider/WAVES,” featuring spoken word by Jello Biafra, owes as much to Kate Bush as it does The Stooges, and although lead single “Father/ELOHIM” has the brevity and sing-along pep of a classic garage-rock track, brassy horns and a stop-start rhythm ensure that an oddball energy permeates every moment of the record. [Katie Rife]

Tiny Ruins, Olympic Girls

Tiny Ruins have already taken their native New Zealand by storm, and the spare, folk-inflected grooves and late-’60s art-film vibe of the band may soon make its presence felt in the U.S. with third album Olympic Girls. Hollie Fullbrook’s retro-cool purr suffuses the music with a tone that implies both tragedy and seduction, drawing listeners close for moving story-song lyrics of expansive beauty. The record may not be immediate, but it grows steadily, with understated songs that take multiple listens to unravel their elegance. [Alex McLevy]

February 8

Angel Bat Dawid, The Oracle

Though only founded in 2014, Chicago’s International Anthem Recording Co. has quickly established itself as an essential outlet for progressive jazz, last year releasing noteworthy albums by Makaya McCraven and Ben LaMar Gay, to name just two. Next up will be The Oracle, the debut recording by composer, clarinetist, singer, and “spiritual jazz soothsayer” Angel Bat Dawid, a new fixture of the Windy City’s avant-garde scene. Dawid assembled the album’s eight tracks on the road using only her cellphone—a fitting format for her intimate, roving improvisations. [Kelsey J. Waite]

Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next

It hasn’t even been six months since Ariana Grande dropped Sweetener and spent pretty much the rest of 2018 dealing with near-daily tabloid headlines thanks to her whirlwind engagement and split from Pete Davidson. Unfortunately, all that bullshit distracted from the fact that Sweetener was a legitimately great pop album, full of icy electro ballads and warm ’90s-throwback R&B. And she wasn’t even done—hell, “Thank U, Next” is one of the best pop songs we’ve heard this winter, and if her album of the same name maintains even half the quality of that track, it should be just as good. (Okay, admittedly, “7 Rings” is a drag.) [Alex McLevy]

LCD Soundsystem, Electric Lady Sessions

LCD Soundsystem’s reactivation as a fierce concert act was just as exciting as its reunion for 2017’s American Dream. A studio session can’t hope to harness the electricity of the project’s Brooklyn Steel residency, but early glimpses of Electric Lady Sessions find James Murphy and company in fine, powerful form at the legendary recording facility. American Dream factors heavily into the set list, with a few old favorites and some choice covers sprinkled throughout, including a Nancy Whang-led, wish-it-weren’t-so-timely tear through Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” [Erik Adams]

Cass McCombs, Tip Of The Sphere

Sly, reclusive, and never quite who we think he is, Cass McCombs will deepen his myth that much more with the release of Tip Of The Sphere, the enigmatic songwriter’s ninth LP. He’s previewed the record with singles like “Sleeping Volcanoes” and “Estrella,” both of which emerge as sumptuous, straightforward slices of folk-rock before slowly revealing the spacey curiosities lurking beneath. Engineered by Sam Evian, the album was recorded at Shahzad Ismaily’s Figure 8 studio in Brooklyn with frequent collaborators Dan Horne on bass and Frank LoCrasto on piano and organ. As with all of McCombs’ albums, it’ll probably take a few (dozen) listens to fully wrap your head around this one. [Randall Colburn]

Mercury Rev, Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited

Bobbie Gentry’s sophomore album, The Delta Sweete, turned 50 last February, and now on its 51st anniversary, Mercury Rev and a slew of outstanding collaborators—all of them women influenced by Gentry—pay tribute to the soulful country-pop masterwork by reimagining its 12 tracks. Nearly every cover is intriguing: Hope Sandoval doing Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell taking on the genius vignette “Reunion,” plus features by Margo Price, Phoebe Bridgers, and more. Gentry’s massive Southern-noir hit “Ode To Billie Joe,” from the 1967 album of the same name, is included, too, and rightly reserved for Lucinda Williams, who gives a visceral, otherworldly performance to close out the record. [Kelsey J. Waite]

Panda Bear, Buoys

The restless experimentalism of Animal Collective takes Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox back to the bedroom for Buoys, his first solo LP since 2015’s Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper. At 32 minutes, it’s only slightly longer than the EP he put out last year, which provides one clue to its contents: tidy and concise, sparsely arranged around acoustic guitar loops and sampler scribbles. Effects bend Lennox’s voice this way and that, but he’s never let himself be heard so clearly, the vocals unearthed from Person Pitch’s and Tomboy’s caverns of echo. On “Token” and the title track, Buoys bumps, but this is a calmer bedroom psychedelia, made from spare parts of contemporary top 40. [Erik Adams]

Jessica Pratt, Quiet Signs

Jessica Pratt needs little more than a microphone to attract attention: Her Joanna Newsom-by-way-of-Marianne Faithfull voice is one of the most unique in music today. And as in Pratt’s previous work, much of her latest album, Quiet Signs, consists of little more than that voice and her signature fingerpicked guitar. The difference this time around is that Quiet Signs is Pratt’s first album fully recorded in a professional studio setting, with gentle wisps of synth, organ, and flute added to augment the spare melodies. As it turns out, wrapping Pratt’s voice in gauzy layers of distortion only adds to its comforting strangeness, creating an intimate through-line to her delicate explorations of smoky jazz, sexy bossa nova, and transcendent, dreamy folk. [Katie Rife]

Various artists, Music Inspired By The Film Roma

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is filled with music, with 38 different musical cues painstakingly assembled by music supervisor Lynn Fainchtein from Cuarón’s memories of growing up listening to the radio in Mexico City. But his inspiration didn’t stop there: After the film was completed, Cuarón and Fainchtein approached dozens of artists from around the world, asking them to either write an original song inspired by or cover one of the songs featured in the film. The result, a 15-track collection featuring songs from artists as disparate as Patti Smith and El-P, bridges the gap between the film’s 1970s setting and contemporary music trends, like the Auto-Tuned electropop of Billie Eilish’s “When I Was Older.” [Katie Rife]

Xiu Xiu, Girl With Basket Of Fruit

Jamie Stewart’s music as Xiu Xiu has always been violent, ugly, and politically charged, so it’s kind of terrifying to hear him say his new release is “imbued with the agitation, tension, sorrow, and anger that has permeated the daily lives of so many over the last few years.” If that weren’t unnerving enough, Girl With Basket Of Fruit arrived with a lead single called “Scisssssssors,” which manifests as a jittery, anxious slobber of samples and erratic whispers. Follow-up single “Pumpkin Attack On Mommy And Daddy” is similarly as exasperating as it is compelling, buoyed by menacing scraps of manipulated, diced-up dialogue. Such is Stewart’s appeal—the guy can write a hook like nobody else, but he won’t share them before jamming a few steel spikes in your head. [Randall Colburn]

February 9

Bbymutha, Muthaland

Chattanooga rapper Bbymutha, née Brittnee Moore, looks to continue her prolific streak into the New Year, following up 2018 EPs Muthaz Day 2 and 3, BbyShoe, Free Brittnee, and The Bastard Tape, Vol. 1 with Muthaland. It’s not Christine, the eminent debut LP Moore described to Ssense as a “concept album [centered] around a woman who’s in love with the devil”—which we can’t wait to hear. But judging from titles like “Roaches Don’t Die” and “Bbymutha’s Body,” it will hold us over with more of Moore’s sharp takes on sex, love, and motherhood, delivered in her syrupy Southern flow. [Kelsey J. Waite]

February 15

Broken Social Scene, Let’s Try The After, Vol. 1

“The point is to keep going,” Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew says of Let’s Try The After, Vol. 1, a five-track follow-up to the Canadian supergroup’s triumphant 2017 comeback, Hug Of Thunder. This is certainly the sound of keeping Broken Social Scene going, a sampler platter of what the band does best: one big-screen projection of Drew’s undying romanticism, a midtempo showcase for vocalist Ariel Engle, a stirring callback to the band’s post-rock roots. There’s even a brief instrumental passage to kick things off. The wild card is “All I Want,” a star turn from longtime supporting player Andrew Whiteman that comes off like a song-length crescendo. Whether or not there’s ever a Let’s Try The After, Vol. 2, it’s all in the spirit of continuing. [Erik Adams]

Chaka Khan, Hello Happiness

Modern pop and R&B is saturated with Chaka Khan’s influence, but we haven’t heard a new album from the funk icon herself since 2007’s Grammy-winning Funk This, which brought Khan’s sound into the 21st century even as it revisited longtime influences like Prince and Joni Mitchell. In fact, Khan intended her next studio release to be a Mitchell tribute album, but after collaborating with producers Switch and Sarah Ruba Taylor on an unrelated recording, the three decided to assemble a full-length LP. The result, Hello Happiness, sets Khan’s legendary voice to retro funk samples mixed with modern dance production, honoring her back catalog while finding it a fresh iteration. [Kelsey J. Waite]

Ladytron, Ladytron

It’s been nearly eight years since the release of Gravity The Seducer, the last LP from electro-pop avatars Ladytron, but the band sounds eager to revitalize its output. Daniel Hunt has said the forthcoming self-titled record will be “a lot heavier” than the more laid-back sounds of Gravity, adding a newfound urgency to the group’s signature icy electronic thump. Still, don’t expect too radical a shift—there will be harmonies, hooks, and swirling synths aplenty. [Alex McLevy]

February 22

Julia Jacklin, Crushing

“I know I’ve locked myself in my room / But I’ll open up the door and try to love again soon,” Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin sings on “Pressure To Party,” the lead single from her upcoming sophomore album, Crushing. That kind of self-compassionate insight is what made Jacklin’s 2016 debut, Don’t Let The Kids In, an album to watch for fans of the Angel Olsen school of poignant melancholy, and Crushing—whose second single, “Head Alone,” deals with bodily autonomy in a particularly vulnerable way—looks to be a heartfelt expression of a claustrophobic period in Jacklin’s life. [Katie Rife]

Nakhane, You Will Not Die

When South African musician, author, and actor Nakhane Touré made his film debut in 2017 in the controversial The Wound, depicting queer desire in the context of a sacred Xhosa rite of passage, he faced an onslaught of graphic, homophobic threats to his life. Which made the bold, emotional pop of You Will Not Die, released in Europe last March and arriving Stateside this month, all the more potent. “Interloper” is an exemplary cut, with Nakhane’s soulful tenor riding a wave of rolling rhythms and choir-backed choruses, before plunging unexpectedly into a pool of piano, harp, and birdsong at the end. It’s worth hitting “play” on the video just to see him strut in that silver suit. [Kelsey J. Waite]

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