For me, March is when the new year really begins. The Sun is out, the snow is melting, the days are longer, and everyone and everything comes out of hibernation — including the music industry. Here’s an alphabetical list of the 33 best albums I heard during the month — click on the cover pictures to read the original reviews:
THE TOP ALBUMS
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Teenage girls are scary at the best of times. But 17-year-old L.A. pop phenom Billie Eilish takes it to a whole new level on her debut album. A disturbing and demented groundbreaker built from edgy, minimalist electro-pop creations obsessed with sex, death, suicide and violence, it is easily one of the oddest and most unsettling major-label pop albums to arrive in recent times. She’s scary good.
“This is the way it’s supposed to be,” a triumphant Jennifer Herrema exults right off the hop of White Stuff’s title cut. She’s got that right. On their first studio album together in nearly 20 years, Herrema and guitarist Neil Hagerty pick up right where they left off, haphazardly cranking out cruddy, noisy scuzz-rock anthems that are a long-overdue and much-welcome antidote to the soulless, airbrushed, play-it-safe ass-kissery that passes for much of rock ’n’ roll these days. Break out the drugs, black out the windows and play this loud on an endless loop. And somebody push her on a cart through the duty-free.
Beloved Midwestern emo stalwarts American Football score another win on the comeback trail by crafting a gently complex and heartbreakingly beautiful magnum opus that stands as their most accomplished and mature work to date.
Make that Back Here. Mostly. The surviving members of Australian indie-rock rebels Beasts of Bourbon reunite for a disc that fuses two-fisted proto-punk bashers, garage-rock nuggets and grim, fatalistic fare. Knock back a shot.
Something wicked this way comes. Finally. More than a decade after eccentric Bostonoian Brian Carpenter kicked off his Weird American Gothic concept-album trilogy, he unleashes his twisted grand finale.
The feisty Texas troubadour and his corroded vocal cords keeps things earthy, loose and honest — while his vivid lyrics, raw magnetism and unvarnished sincerity remind you he’s one of the sharpest songwriters in his overcrowded field.
The quirky Japanese female foursome’s infectiously irresistible ditties are sweet enough to give you cavities. But if you think it’s all just empty calories, listen closer: Chai play by their own rules and clearly don’t care what anybody else thinks. If that isn’t punk, what is?
Space may be the final frontier. But it’s just the starting point for the British instrumental trio and their otherworldly hybrid of cosmic jazz, electronica, psychedelic rock and acid-funk. Embrace the mystery.
The North Mississippi Allstars singer-guitarist plays ladies’ man, curating and cultivating a collection of collaborations with a slate of fantastic female vocalists including Amy Helm, Amy LaVere, Allison Russell, Sharde Thomas and Mississippi gospel trio Como Mamas. It’s a date.
There are songwriters. And there are songwriters’ songwriters. Steve Earle likely belongs in the latter category. Late Texas troubadour Guy Clark definitely does. So Earle pays tribute to his longtime friend and mentor with all the love, respect, reverence and honesty you’d expect.
The legendary New York noisemakers led by drummer and composer Weasel Walter return after 12 years with a fearsome beast of terrifying twists and turns, braincramping epic tracks and free jazz freakouts. Not for the squeamish.
If you kidnapped Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin, Monty Norman and John Barry and made them ante up a soundtrack to a pulp-fiction classic, it couldn’t sound any hipper or more authentic than these Brooklyn trio’s crime-jazz jams and gems.
Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters! And don’t forget to wear flowers in your hair. That’s the mixed (but mighty wild) music message Bay Area retro-rockers Hot Lunch serve up on their cleverly handled sophomore album.
Countless artists mine the old-school soul vein these days. But few strikes pure gold as often as Durand Jones & The Indications. Their superb second album features superb, stirring songs that can stand next to classics from James Brown, Al Green, The Isley Brothers and other legends.
The British indie heathen and his gang can crash, bash and thrash an old-school groove-rocker at the drop of a gold medallion. But they’re also unafraid to venture into the subterranean realms of psyche-rock, twisted roots, hoodoo-voodoo and narcotized lounge balladry. Righteous indeed.
Kurt Wagner does his level best to make everyone forget once and for all that Nashville’s Lambchop used to be an alt-country band with this tastefully weird (and weirdly tasteful) mutant offspring of alien cocktail jazz, glitchy trip-hop and avant-ambient soundscapery.
Jenny Lewis is in good company. A VIP roster of talent that includes Beck, Ryan Adams, Ringo Starr, Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Don Was and session drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner help the Rilo Kiney frontwoman and indie darling fashion a bona fide classic pop-rock album.
To call it Malkmus Machine Music is an exaggeration. But there’s no denying that the Pavement and Jicks leader and indie-rock icon does pepper his first true solo album with some shapeshifting synth-noodle post-rock experiments.
It’s no joke. And no mirage. The original Meat Puppets not only buried the hatchet, reunited and released their first album in 24 years — they also beat long odds by crafting a stunning disc that earns its rightful place in their vast and varied catalogue.
California, here they come. Light-years where they started from. The British vets raise some dust on a loose concept album rooted in their dual comfort zones of raucous post-punk and rollicking alt-country. Call it Operation Desert Strum.
If cough syrup, Satan and the sound of tectonic plates colliding could form a band, it still wouldn’t come on any slower, deeper, heavier and harder than this Montreal electro-doom blues duo. Niggght does it right.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs fronter Karen O brings her edgy yet tender vocals, introspective lyrics and indie-rock sensibilities. Indie producer Brian Burton supplies his lush arrangements, slow-jam grooves and dusty psychedelia. The time-travelling results allow both parties to play to their strengths and send everyone home happy.
If you can imagine an alternate-universe Nashville where Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley and Long Ryders joined forces with Scott Walker to record the soundtrack for a David Lynch movie, you’re ready to ride with Orville Peck’s posse.
This Rhode Island soul powerhouse delivers an unabashed throwback to the glory days of R&B and soul, updated with messages of independence and empowerment. She’s going places.
If you’re going to go by one name, it better be something distinctive. Like Sasami. Her understated yet captivating self-titled debut is equally unique and memorable, distinguished by its peculiarly seductive confluence of musical and stylistic elements.
Soul power. It’s what you need. What you want. What you got to have. And what Orlando’s Sh-Booms deliver by the pound on their debut disc.
The maverick Nashville singer-songwriter’s guitar is unplugged on these 10 songs, but the eternal loose cannon, hanging judge, cynical idealist and all-around wiseacre remains an electrifying presence throughout the 34-minute offering.
Singer-guitarist Jay Farrar’s ninth studio album since leaving Uncle Tupelo a quarter-century ago is his most pointedly and potently political effort in 15 years, taking direct aim at income inequality and ICE while championing whistleblowers and workers.
Nobody’s getting sleepy here. From stem to stern, the former Pavement guitarist’s 10-song disc keeps the mood light and bright, the beats big and bouncy, and the songs simple and pitched straight over the plate. “What’s wrong with this picture?” he asks midway through. Not a damn thing, dude.
“I gotta get my shit together before I’m 40,” Timothy Showalter sings. He needn’t worry. Based on this high-powered set of folk-rock epics, psychedelic jams and experimental soundscapes, the singer-songwriter who goes by Strand of Oaks has already achieved his goal. And then some.
The 10-song set remains rooted in the hooky, wry pop-rock that has always been Weezer’s comfort zone. But it also pushes at the boundaries by toning down the guitar-crunch to make room for keyboards and electronics, putting more emphasis on grooves and even punching up the vocals with the occasional bit of profanity.
Better late than never. It’s all you can say about this long-overdue posthumous album that Mississippi bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch recorded in 2015 with Black Keys majordomo Dan Auerbach. Though you could also ask: Can we please hear more?
Hawksley Workman has always been his own man. But he’s never seemed quite as comfortable in his own skin as he is here. On Median Age Wasteland, his least contrived and most mature work in ages, eccentricity and idiosyncrasy take a backseat to musical simplicity and emotional honesty.