The best music of February 2011

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Contrary to popular opinion, February is not just an arbitrary collection of 28 days that proceed the month when SXSW occurs, and a resulting massive gusher of music floods the industry tubes. Rather, February is a real, live organized moon cycle in which many people release albums because it is the time that precedes the Austin deluge. Makes sense then, that every week seemed to present new critically-approved “big” releases. We had plenty of smaller ones to be excited about, too.

Best release of February 2011

Peaking Lights, 936 (Not Not Fun)
936 is Peaking Lights emerging from a cocoon that's main nutrients were textural ambience and lo-fi skullduggery, and entering into a galaxy light years closer to the immaculate conception implied in their name. You could call that getting “poppier”, but with their clearest and crispest recordings to date, they've shed none of the emotional heft–one that recalls distance and an ever-tugging meloncholia–that has always made them such an evocative band.

Best music of February 2011

Black Eagle Child, Lobelia (Preservation)
The new guitar opus from the Milwaukee-based project (out on Australian label, Preservation) may not resemble the music or maintain the stage presence of Alice Cooper but its hefty plucks and gentle melodies will certainly incur uncontrollable bouts of bowing should you encounter Jantz within his Milwaukee stronghold. We most certainly aren’t worthy.

The Clubhouse, Live At The Clubhouse EP (Homebase NYC)
The leaked single on this debut EP brought to mind a caffeine-fed lifting of The Clash's “Car Jamming” bass line, but by the chorus my thoughts floated towards a fresh mash-up of Crash Test Dummies' “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” mixed with a funk interpretation of Al Hirt's “Green Hornet”. Which is a very good thing, in this case.

Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)
You may not hear a hit single on a Hecker record, but you never have to worry about the experience lulling. It's the kind of music you put on and zone out to. It's a kind of religious experience. The face of god coming through the fractured, silver clouds to lend you levity about life and your place in the world.

Al Lover, All Over (Self-released)
Originally created in the winter of '09, All Over is a glimpse into Al Lover the scorned lover, before we knew him as the funkee Bay Area beat chef. He thrives off his turmoil to create a hip hop break up record. Peace to the Bukowski readings streaming through the project. Now there's a man who understood love.

Stalley, Lincoln Way Nights (Intelligent Trunk Music)
Recorded in Columbus, OH, Stalley's Lincoln Way Nights is an invitation to the biggest street side car show in the small town of Massillon. It's whip music for the intelligent heads who quest for more than bass.

Money Makin' Jam Boys, The Prestige Mixtape (10 Deep Clothing)
The Roots crew crony emcees just got a bone thrown their way, beyond the 16-bar space on a posse cut, with the formation of the Money Making Jam Boys. The group consists of Black Thought, Dice Raw, P.O.R.N., STS and Truck North – starting to wonder what Peedi Crack did to get limited to a guest verse. Courtesy of 10Deep clothing, MMJB dropped its debut mixtape The Prestige today. Mixed by Mick Boogie and Terry Urban, the mixtape is nothing but original jams with a brief homage to ODB's “Brooklyn Zoo” lyrics by Black Thought on “Philadelphia Zoo”.

Ill Mondo, Gentlemen Prefer Blunts (Mixtape)
Bay Area production team Ill Mondo is joining DJ Screw's long-running party with this mix of chopped and screwed soul. Consisting of 45s slow-spun at the 33 1/3 rpm mark with some beat juggling and DJ-trickery, Gentlemen Prefer Blunts spikes the punch on Sharon Jones, Donald Byrd and Rick James' cocaine-fueled ass.

Woodsman, Rare Forms (Lefse)
These guys wonk hard live, letting their guitar driven psych spool out on long meditations, but their recorded output largely consists of honed-down condensed expressions of their sharpest concepts. Which means they sound like the heirs and progression to the psych pop work laid down these past years most recently by Woods. Hopefully NASA knows to put these guys in the digital cue for the sick sound system they'll install on the Mars shuttle.

Toro y Moi, Underneath the Pine (Carpark)
We're starring down the barrel of a mid-oughts DFA contender oozing with underwater synths, smooth as hell, beat driven and gorgeously produced. The “perfect headphone disco” we described gleaming off his 2010 work Causers of This is still front and center, but we'd say with Underneath the Pine it's shifted more heavily towards the “disco” and slipped off one of those headphones. And in that sense, it has the markings of music made for a wider, zoomed-out audience, far more than his older, smaller bedroom chemistry projects.

James Blake, James Blake (A&M/Atlas)
What makes this album so groundbreaking is its ability to successfully express a place and time: London, and Blake's post-dubstep moment, specifically.

PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant/Island)
In some ways, Let England Shake, PJ Harvey's eighth studio album to date, is her most ambitious work to come over her nearly 20 year career. At the same time, it's quite possibly the most straight-forward and pop oriented recording that she's ever released.

Fabio Orsi, Stand Before Me, Oh My Soul (Preservation)
The other Fabio's latest somehow turns the tortoise into the hare, though the album never runs out of steam trying to cross the finish line. Rather, it’s the sort of rabbit that likes to procreate. A lot.

Cool Calm Pete, Ups & Downs (Mixtape)
It troubles me that Cool Calm Pete neglects to follow up his brilliant debut, but as long as he keeps dropping mixtapes like The Ups & Downs and Over You OST, he'll remain in my good grace. The man's taste in music is too good to hate on his lack of personal output.

The Babies, The Babies (Shrimper)
One of the sleepers for this site was the excellent self-titled debut from the Babies, a band with a nasty, criminal record of burning melodies into peoples brains. Enemy number one in that respect is probably “All Things Come To Past”, but the whole album is suspect.

Bird Names, Metabolism: A Salute to the Energy of the Sun (Northern Spy)
It’s likely you’ve read their press clippings and wondered how exactly pop was making another one of its infinite comebacks courtesy this Athens psych outfit. Metabolism: A Salute to the Energy of the Sun is full of the band's piss and vinegar and obtuse melodies. Whatever it is we need to fill our post-Beefheart aortic vacancy, Bird Names shall deliver.

Microkingdom, No Jazz (Friends Records)
The trio of Dr. Will Redman (percussion), Marc Miller (guitar), and John Dierker (reeds), call it “zone variance of extra-cognitive spiritual magnetism, or No Jazz.” We once called it unjazz. You may call it what you wish, though there's certainly no answers in the cerebral playfulness going on between these three performers, nor any obvious codes passing between the tracks to help spell out One Big Idea: the avant skronk of “Peppermint Crab” is a distant cousin to the soft-tread night ballad “Aire Metal”.

Kendrick Lamar, “Vanity Slave Pt. 2” (Feat. Gucci Man)
On the same week that Rick Ross celebrated his 35th birthday with Diddy and Skateboard P by dropping a milli in a high end Miami strip club, Kendrick Lamar proved once again why he's one of the most compelling young talents in music by dropping “Vanity Slaves Pt.2” featuring Gucci Mane.

W-H-I-T-E, “Fountain” 7-inch (Swill Children)
As goes the name W-H-I-T-E so goes the music. Blisteringly blissful, ethereal, sky-high, cerulean, cathedral-tipped — keep those adjectives and adverbs rolling, you'll need them as the beat stays constant, and then even more when the bottom drops and it's just your ears and Cory Thomas Hanson's pitch-perfect vocal harmony.

Akron/Family, S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT (Dead Oceans)
The outing isn't quite their Merriweather Post Pavilion moment, but it certainly reaches previously untrod terrain. Where that Animal Collective across-the-board favorite of 2009 was the band's greatest feat of electronic production, Cosmic Birth is Akron/Family's slickest outing and another step away from the cloistered Grizzly Bear Brooklyn moment from which they initially emerged. That said, the step it takes isn't uniformly directed at the same big festival audience that “My Girls” captured. More like a better slot at Bonnaroo.

Jensen Sportag, Pure Wet (Cascine)
Jensen Sportag's “Everything Good” is everything swell and tastefully nostalgic that we love about retro-fitting our R&B; the snaking bass line, the posh runway-ready synths, schmaltzy white-boy vocal musings and of course, subtle cowbell clanging – overt cowbell breakdowns are so DFA circa '04.

Honorable Mentions

Big K.R.I.T. & Grillade EP
Julianna Barwick, The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty)
Banjo or Freakout, Banjo or Freakout (Memphis Industries)
Yojimbo Billions, Blowzy EP
Tyler, the Creator's opinions on Chris Brown's hair
Our Free Love II Valentine Mixtapes

And these two How To Dress Well videos: