Here's your essential guide to the finest songs and albums of February 2023, hand-selected by tQ's in-house staff
At the beginning of the year, plotting tQ's coverage for the first part of the year, it came up a lot just how stacked this February's release schedule was. (Look out for April, too). It's probably not too early to say that a great number of the records that you'll find below will be riding high in our albums of the year chart come December.
What stands out the most about the list below is its diversity - it ranges from killer new pop music from Lana Del Rey and Jessie Ware to all out avant-garde mania from Historically Fucked, and takes in everything inbetween. We hope you find something across that spectrum that you enjoy.
All the below, as well as all the other excellent music we've covered at tQ this month will also be compiled into an hours-long playlist exclusive to our subscribers. In addition, subscribers can enjoy exclusive music from some of the world's most forward-thinking artists, regular deep-dive essays, a monthly podcast, specially-curated 'Organic Intelligence' guides to under the radar international sub-genres and more.
To sign up for all those benefits, and to help us keep bringing you the kind of music you're about to read about below, you can click here. And read on for the best of the best from February 2023.
Cruelle – J'ai remplacé l'amour par l'argent
(Avon Terror Corps)
Avon Terror Corps continue to cement their reputation as one of the finest record labels currently operating in this benighted land with a new album from French artist Cruelle. Apparently J'ai Remplacè l'Amour Par L'Argent was "created to capture a moment in time where I used autonomy as revenge," and this is a record so magnificent in its intensity and determination that it's hard not to feel a wafer thin sliver of sympathy for the subject of said vengeance. It begins with 'La Parade Du Serial Killer', all mangled, sinister brass, gun factory rhythms and Camille Brêteau's vocals sounding like a French folk lament for something appalling yet still lurking in the future. Next track 'Si je te le demande, fais-moi des bleues, fragile!' is Siouxsie and Budge's Creatures dancing with early These New Puritans and early FKA twigs. There's fractured dub at a vaudeville feature in 'But' and whacked-out goth melancholy in 'Je peux pas t'aimer' before the wonderful Max Kelan (a regular in Noel Gardner's New Weird Britain column) appears for the steely, rattling, cheekily nihilistic conclusion 'Lick The Bag'. This is a militant yet suave record of industrial pop and punishing joy. By far and away the best new artist I've encountered in 2023 thus far.
Marlene Ribeiro – Toquei No Sol
Toquei No Sol is an album made with ambition and total confidence. It speaks to a tough decade, in which the mental stability of many has grown fragile. Ribeiro's music comes from within and inhabits the echoing spaces of the mind, infiltrating a sophisticated and all-encompassing soundscape that cleanses. She takes the sounds around us which we filter out almost all the time, and repurposes them to present our reality back to ourselves as truth. It is a deceptively simple record which needs repeated listening to uncover its subtle power. The ritual works: Ribeiro has what we need.
Tom Bolton – read the full review here
Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy
On Heavy Heavy, Young Fathers set out to deliberately overwhelm. The Scottish trio's last album, 2018's Cocoa Sugar, was an insular project that carried emotional heft – 'In My View' and 'Lord' in particular – but never felt like it left the room. By contrast, Heavy Heavy pushes the physical intensity of their early work to a fervent extreme. Somehow, four albums in, they've managed to create something more massive, more explosive and more earnest than ever before.
Nathan Evans – read the full review here
Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn To You
The grandeur of '90s and early-aughts pop underlies much of the ambition of Caroline Polachek's latest album. On 'Pretty In Possible', the pairing of her nimble yodels with a shuffling beat calls to mind Imogen Heap and Guy Sigsworth's Frou Frou project; the drum and bass production on 'I Believe' could be lifted from an Everything But The Girl record, if not for the synth flashes that lace it with more sprightly energy; and 'Fly To You' features Dido (as well as Grimes), whose tight control of her vocals resembles the way Polachek flips between octaves. But for all these connections, Desire avoids feeling derivative by crossing so many wires, drawing from a more adventurous time in pop and placing innately familiar elements in new contexts.
Noah Ciubotaru – read the full review here
Adela Mede – Szabadság
Bratislava-based singer, producer and composer Adela Mede's songs are deeply layered. On debut album Szabadság – released on cassette last year, now, finally getting a vinyl release – she sings in Slovak, Hungarian and English; occasionally in all three languages on the same track. Her music moves from spellbinding choruses to intimate field recordings of folk dances. Natural sounds morph into snaps of volatile synthesis. Choirs of electronically altered voices sit side-by-side with disarmingly bare singing. All of it woven together with fragments of hypnotic beats and flickers of spoken word.
Daryl Worthington – read an interview here
Algiers – Shook
Algiers' music has always dealt with a sense of precarity against the power of American absolutism, both historical and contemporary. If much contemporary music seems to approach this political anxiety and the troubled self with a message of empowerment that ultimately feels both adjacent to self-help woo-woo and the self-interest at the heart of the system that is trying to critique, Algiers have always dealt in communion – this is in part what makes their live sets so potent. Here, they sound not like a band at the end of their tether or making a last spin of the dice, but one utterly revitalised, and now only reaching their peak, through a record loaded with collaborations that are never perfunctory or box-ticking exercise, but joyous and celebratory.
DJ Shufflemaster – EXP
Originally released in 2001 and now given a much-needed reissue by Tresor, DJ Shufflemaster's debut and only album to date is a forgotten classic of the hardgroove techno genre that dominated dance floors in the late '90s and early '00s. 'Imageforum' and 'Fourthinter' pair the hardgroove sound with pads reminiscent of the best '90s Detroit techno, while cuts like 'Innervisions' and 'Onto Your Body' hypnotise with their rolling, minimalist loops. At a time when European dance floors are being overloaded with pile-driving kick drums and hackneyed references to old rave music, EXP is a reminder of the funk and groove that is integral to all of the best techno.
Historically Fucked – The Mule Peasants' Revolt Of 12,067
Let's accept, for argument's sake, that some improvised music – from the thousands of hours' worth recorded each year – does take itself too seriously, is arid and dour and gives no indication of anyone involved having fun. Then consider Manuncian quartet Historically Fucked and their new album The Mule Peasants' Revolt Of 12,067. It sounds like an unstoppable party! Sure, one for a selective clientele, who dig Fluxus methodology and Skin Graft Records catalogue obscurities and the well-spoken goofballs of post-AMM British free music – but those people might just dance you squares under the table.
Noel Gardner – read the full review here
Yo La Tengo – This Stupid World
As with many of Yo La Tengo's masterful records, This Stupid World meanders its way through the tracklist with ease. There's a great range of textures and timbres scattered throughout, however the elements required – tonally and thematically – to unify this work are effortlessly applied and done so in a way that has always felt instinctive across Yo La Tengo's artistry. Furthermore, the use of looped, rhythmic melodies across the record cleverly (and subtly) gives structure to the work. With three of the nine songs clocking in at over seven minutes-long, every note is earned and necessarily. Extended instrumental breaks and outros never feel gratuitous, if anything they allow the listener to fall deeper into the song, to lose track of time.
Zara Hedderman – read an interview here
The Golden Dregs – On Grace And Dignity
On Grace And Dignity is a record whose charms unfold slowly. Presented entirely at a louche mid-tempo, Benjamin Woods' voice never departing from a low, close drawl. It lures you in with that intimacy, appearing on the surface a gentle, easygoing record. Still waters run deep, however. Pay close attention and you'll find a record of tumultuous emotional swings, songs crafted with minute attention to detail, gusts of saxophone or keys or vocal manipulations that are gentle enough to arrive without fanfare, but just strong enough to blow the record into entirely new waters.
Lisa O'Neill – All Of This Is Chance
There's a sense of claustrophobia inherent in these ideas that in other hands could easily overwhelm the album, but there's nothing claustrophobic about All Of This Is Chance. It's an expansive, widescreen record. While the title track creates a mood that gently percolates through the rest of the album, O'Neill never lets the bleakness win. "I'm trying to say we're all connected to the bigger universe, we're connected to the apples in the trees and the stars in the sky," she says.
Jonathan Wright – read an interview here
Kelela – Raven
Recorded over a fortnight-long period in Berlin, Raven is rich with invention, a deeply immersive experience that skips between UK garage and 2-step, jungle, breakbeats, and more, ultimately paying tribute to dance music's Black, queer roots. Across the record, Kelela transports her enticing part-electronic, part-R&B sound to new spaces, opening with the glittering, reverb-drenched pads and soaring vocals of lead single 'Washed Away' and moving through a number of dancefloor-indebted cuts, such as the mellow, dancehall-tinged rhythms of 'On The Run' and breakbeat-fuelled 'Happy Ending'.
Fred Garratt-Stanley – read the full review here
Dyasono And a.P.A.t.T. – 'It Keeps Going'
This initial taster from the first new album in seven years by chameleonic scouse multimedia troupe a.P.A.t.T., featuring Los Angeles-based songwriter and artist Dyasono (Anindya Kartika), pushes through the quotidian veil of mundane daily existence implied in its repetitious refrain to an emotionally ascending state beyond. Though it represents something of an uncharacteristically pure pop turn when heard alongside other tracks from forthcoming album, We, the exuberant joyful energy at its heart is the most significant constant among those thirteen, shape-shifting, genre-defying songs.
Naima Bock – 'Lines'
Those who've been wise enough to catch Naima Bock's sublime live shows will be well acquainted with the stunning emotional sweep of 'Lines', now finally released as a standalone single. The fact it did not make the tracklist of last year's debut album Giant Palm is testament only to the similar strength of that record.
DJ Python – 'I'm Tired'
Stepping away from the 'deep reggaeton' sound that has characterised much of DJ Python’s output of recent years, 'I'm Tired' is a menacing dance floor cut fuelled by slouching, halftime trap rhythms and whirring, siren-like synths.
Jessie Ware – 'Pearls'
A slinkily infectious slice of disco boogie that somehow manages to evoke both high glamour and the soundtrack to Deep Throat.
audiobooks – 'Burnt Pictures'
Every time Audiobooks release a new single I'm reminded that there's no one else making pop music that's quite so brilliantly weird. This, and last year's similarly brilliant 'Tryna Tryna Take Control' are both on an excellent new EP Gulliver that's due in April.
Scotch Rolex & Shackleton – 'Opium Vibration'
A link-up I didn't know I needed in my life until it hit my email inbox earlier this week, Scotch Rolex and Shackleton combine brilliantly on this lead cut from their new collaborative album, Death By Tickling. Bringing together Shackleton's ear for bass-heavy percussion and psychedelia and Scotch Rolex's affinity for all things peculiar, it's a fitting introduction to one of the year's most exciting records.
Kelela – 'Enough For Love'
Circling around a simple two chord vamp drenched in enough echo and reverb to drown a cat, Kelela's hard-edged neo-soul has never sounded so cinematic. 'Enough for Love' is not so much a song for dancing to as a song for making eye contact to.
Lankum – 'Go Dig My Grave'
'Go Dig My Grave' shows Lankum at their most melodramatic, taking a ballad composed of verses that are hundreds of years old, and retooling it as a hulking, leviathan march, with a sound as teeth-rattlingly intense as you'll hear anywhere else.
Yves Tumor – 'Echolalia'
'Echolalia', the lead cut from Yves Tumor's latest record for Warp Records, continues down the path of swaggering indie rock explored on records like Heaven To A Tortured Mind and Safe In The Hands Of Love, the US artist's yearning vocal combining to devastating effect with syncopated drums and a typically satisfying bassline.
Lana Del Rey – 'A&W'
This is Lana Del Rey at her absolute finest, an epic single in two parts, beginning as a delicate and meandering meditation bathed in golden hour light, then plunging into stunning electro thumper as the sun sets.
Skrillex, Joker & Sleepnet – 'Tears'
One of a number of standout cuts on recent comeback album Quest For Fire, 'Tears' sees Skrillex link with dubstep OG Joker for a storming, bass-loaded cut that sits just on the right side of tasteful.
Share this article: