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Steven Hyden’s Favorite Music Of February 2023

Every month, Uproxx cultural critic Steven Hyden makes an unranked list of his favorite music-related items released during this period — songs, albums, books, films, you name it.

1. Yo La Tengo, This Stupid World

There is a tortoise and hare element to this band in comparison to other legacy ’90s indie acts. Pavement probably is the most beloved from that time, but they’re not nearly as prolific. Built To Spill has higher highs, but they’re less consistent. Ditto Flaming Lips. Sonic Youth, of course, famously imploded. I don’t think there has ever been a time when Yo La Tengo were considered the band. But then you look at their catalog and it’s all … pretty incredible? There are literally no misses! (That’s right, I like Summer Sun.) When you compare them to their contemporaries, it’s hard to argue that anyone did it better. And they just keep going! This Stupid World is their 17th record, and I think it’s my favorite since at least 2006’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. Whereas their recent work leans more on the spacier side, This Stupid World brings back the “song-y” elements of classics like Painful and I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. If you’re new to Yo La Tengo, this record might actually be a perfect introduction.

2. Liv.e, Girl In The Half Pearl

On my podcast I joked about how we ended up talking about the ’90s alt-rock band Live more this month than the newer, hipper Liv.e, whose second album ranks among early 2023’s most acclaimed releases. So I would be very remiss if I didn’t talk here about Girl In The Half Pearl, as this really is one of the most sonically adventurous and, at times, mind-blowing releases I’ve heard recently. Broadly described as “avant R&B,” Liv.e’s music is actually next to impossible to categorize without creating a word salad of references. It’s Sade as produced by Trent Reznor! It’s Brian Eno remaking Joni Mitchell’s Blue! A song cycle about a failed romantic relationship, Girl In The Half Pearl is really good at evoking a mix of desire, despair, wonder, and anger musically as it is unpacking those feelings lyrically. Each time I put it on, I pick up something new.

3. Andy Shauf, Norm

The part of me that loves it when artists are great at world-building responds the most to Girl In The Half Pearl. It’s also the part of me that really digs the work of this Canadian singer-songwriter. On bravura albums like 2020’s The Neon Skyline, his songs fold like scenes in a movie directed by Robert Altman or Richard Linklater, in which a cast of characters tell their stories and gradually reveal how they’re lives are interconnected. On his latest effort, Norm, Shauf also spotlights his excellent production work. If you are a sucker, as I am, for vintage guitar, drum, and keyboard sounds that sound lifted from albums by Paul Simon and Randy Newman, you can’t do much better.

4. Philip Selway, Strange Dance

Strange Dance is the latest example of a Radiohead band member making music outside of Radiohead. Ed O’Brien produced his first solo effort (under the moniker EOB), Earth, in 2020. Last year, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood teamed up in the well-regarded side project The Smile, forming a power trio with jazz drummer Tom Skinner. Also in 2022, Colin Greenwood started playing with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. During the promotional campaign for Strange Dance, Selway has hinted that Radiohead might reassemble this year, sparking hopes for their first new album since 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool. But when I spoke with him, he seemed less committal, suggesting that the band is now a collective of sorts in which solo projects fall under “the umbrella of Radiohead.”

5. Lana Del Rey, “A&W”

This epic single from the forthcoming Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. has me officially excited after a few down albums. It feels like a return to the anthemic form of Norman Fucking Rockwell, though on “A&W” LDR takes a left turn after a mesmerizing piano fanfare, in which she slips into a variation on the bubblegum classic “Shimmy Shimmy Cocoa-Puff” over a trap beat. That dream-like coda cinches “A&W’ as one of her best songs.

6. The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Future Is Your Past

This month I was inspired to put on Tepid Peppermint Wonderland, one of the best greatest hits albums ever, in which the notoriously off-kilter BJM are presented in their best possible light as purveyors of catchy, garage-y psych-rock jams. That’s what the best greatest hits albums do — take an unruly catalog and pare it down to the essentials, creating a definitive album in the process. But what about their proper records anyway? A few readers insisted that I spend time with The Future Is Your Past, calling it a return to form. I don’t know if that’s quite true, but this is a really pleasurable album if you buy this band’s brand of retro tunefulness. When it comes to catchy, garage-y psych-rock jams, BJM is basically AC/DC — they have a formula and it’s best that they stick to it.