February's Best New Music

  • Publish Date: March 1, 2011
  • Comments: ↓ 5 user comments

The best albums released last month

Below, we look at the past month's best-reviewed releases. For each album below, we list the percentages of "great" critic reviews (with an individual critic score above 80), "good" critic reviews (61-80), "mixed" reviews (40-60), and "bad" reviews (below 40).

Let England Shake 88 (Island)
by PJ Harvey

Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 21
Good bar 11
Mixed bar 3
Bad 0

The English rocker's best album in a decade is a much more musically varied affair than her piano-driven 2007 album White Chalk, and its dozen songs are loosely united by lyrics dealing with England at war.

"The Words That Maketh Murder"

What the critics are saying: So far, Let England Shake has received nine "perfect" 100 reviews, and has been mentioned as a potential album of the year candidate. Critics find that it isn't very much like Harvey's previous work, and though the music might be "muted," it is still "gorgeous," and the occasionally "disturbing" lyrics supply any power the music might lack. A few reviewers, however, find the album a little too restrained.

Also by this artist:
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea 2000 88
White Chalk 2007 80
Uh Huh Her 2004 79
The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 2006 77

Ravedeath, 1972 86 (Kranky)
by Tim Hecker

Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 3
Good bar 7
Mixed 0
Bad 0

The Canadian's sixth set of abstract, dark, ambient electronica consists of three multi-part compositions supplemented by several stand-alone tracks. The semi-improvised album was recorded in an abandoned Icelandic church.

"Hatred of Music I"

What the critics are saying: One Thirty BPM admires that Hecker's "characteristic mastery of restraint" can produce "unsuspected depth," while Pitchfork appreciates the album's blend of organic and studio-processed sounds. The reviews are filled with words like "dark," "claustrophobic," "disturbed," and "decay." If there's anything lacking, it's a dramatic, unifying concept like that of his prior album, An Imaginary Country.

Also by this artist:
An Imaginary Country 2009 79

We're New Here 84 (XL Recordings)
by Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx

Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 4
Good bar 10
Mixed bar 1
Bad 0

Soul singer Gil Scott-Heron's 2010 minimalist comeback album I'm New Here is remixed in its entirety by Jamie Smith of The xx, resulting in a completely new record; only the vocals are shared with the original.


What the critics are saying: Many critics are quick to point out that We're New Here isn't your typical remix album; it sounds like a brand-new, "focused" and "cohesive" collaboration between two artists (even though the pair didn't actually work together in person), rather than a disjointed collection of retreads. Less enthusiastic reviewers like NME admit that it "isn't exactly groundbreaking" -- while The Independent doesn't seem to appreciate Jamie Smith's beats -- but most critics are fond of the new approach.

Also by this artist:
I'm New Here 2010 78

James Blake 83 (Atlas Recordings)
by James Blake

Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 10
Good bar 13
Mixed bar 5
Bad 0

The 22-year-old London-based dubstep artist follows his acclaimed 2010 EPs The Bells Sketch, CMYK, and Klavierwerke with this debut full-length album, which includes a cover of Feist's "Limit to Your Love."

"Wilhelm Scream"

What the critics are saying: One of the buzziest new artists of the past year, Blake had a lot to live up to on his debut album, and he mostly delivers, according to critics. Not everyone is a fan; songwriting quality (most notably, a lack of good lyrics) is an issue for some reviewers, others complain of some filler, and Drowned in Sound warns, "The James Blake croon, unaltered, is surely going to prove divisive, for some likely a dealbreaker." But other critics find the self-titled disc to be an album of the year candidate. Pitchfork is among the album's major champions, praising not just Blake's songs but also his production and playing, resulting in "gorgeous, indelible tunes that are as generous in content as they are restrained in delivery." And The Guardian finds much of the album "spellbinding" and refreshingly weird and unpredictable.

Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light, Vol. 1 82 (Southern Lord)
by Earth

Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 2
Good bar 8
Mixed bar 2
Bad 0

The Seattle drone-rock band returns with its sixth album (it will be followed by a second volume next year) of lengthy, heavy, slow-paced instrumental tracks, which feature the band's new members Lori Goldston (cello) and Karl Blau (bass).

"Old Black"

What the critics are saying: All Music Guide finds the album continuing the band's evolution into more atmospheric music, and praises the disc's "sinister" yet "seductive" and "elegantly detailed" sound; The Guardian, meanwhile, declares the album Earth's best yet. Other critics also feel that the new album is both more accessible and roomier than past outings, though Pop Matters and Dusted counter that the sound hasn't changed quite enough, and that Earth may have reached the limits of what they can achieve.

The King of Limbs 82 (Ticker Tape)
by Radiohead

Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 7
Good bar 16
Mixed bar 3
Bad 0

Self-released by the band via digital distribution (a CD will arrive next month) with little advance notice, Radiohead's electronics-heavy eighth album is their shortest LP yet, clocking in at just eight tracks and 37 minutes. Nigel Godrich again produces.

"Lotus Flower"

What the critics are saying: While initial reviews -- posted just hours after the album became available -- were glowing, the hype has died down a bit, with the album now scoring below the band's previous two releases with both critics and users. Few critics find Limbs to be anything less than enjoyable, but just as few consider it to be groundbreaking, essential, or up to the caliber of past Radiohead albums, and many reviews suggest that there is a bit too much familiarity in the album's sound. Some critics also note a lack of accessibility or hooks, a bit too much gloomy, and a sense of incompleteness. (It bears repeating that many of these reviews were published so quickly that the critics could not have had much of a chance to listen to and digest the album.)

Also by this artist:
In Rainbows 2007 88
Hail To The Thief 2003 85
Kid A 2000 80
I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings 2001 76
Amnesiac 2001 75

The Magic Place 81 (Asthmatic Kitty)
by Julianna Barwick

Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 2
Good bar 5
Mixed bar 1
Bad 0

The first true LP for the Louisiana-born, Brooklyn-based performer is a hazy, reverb-heavy, minimalist affair, with as much emphasis on vocals than on drone-like instrumentation.


What the critics are saying: Barwick's ethereal vocals -- The Phoenix calls her a "one-woman choir" -- are drawing comparisons to the likes of Enya and Julee Cruise, while All Music Guide admires her expanded instrumentation compared to her previous shorter releases.

Also by this artist:
Florine [EP] 2009 83

Return to the Ugly Side 81 (Domino)
by Malachai

Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 1
Good bar 5
Mixed bar 1
Bad 0

The Bristol, England duo (previously known as Malakai) follow their debut Ugly Side of Love with this 14-track sophomore set, which combines electronica and trip-hop with traces of British psychedelia and prog-rock.


What the critics are saying: It's hard to review a Bristol band without making Portishead and Massive Attack comparisons (the former's Geoff Barrow even contributes to one of the tracks here), and there certainly are plenty in the reviews for Return. Another point the critics agree on is that the band is hard to pin down; Uncut calls the disc "ragged, erratic, but never boring," and other reviews also note a lot of ground covered. Still, for all the genre-hopping, it's not choppy -- Pitchfork calls the album "seamless" and "clearly designed to be experienced as a single piece," though Drowned in Sound faults the album's structure, and All Music Guide prefers the band's first album.

Asleep on the Floodplain 81 (Drag City)
by Six Organs of Admittance

Critic Review Distribution:
Great 0
Good bar 8
Mixed 0
Bad 0

Album number seven for the psych-folk side project for guitarist Ben Chasny (also of Comets on Fire) is a loose, mostly acoustic, home-recorded affair.

"Hold But Let Go"

What the critics are saying: Many reviewers admire the album's beauty even if it is less polished than some of Chasny's recent albums (Pop Matters calls it "earthy and raw"). MusicOMH calls Asleep "warm and intimate," "hypnotic," and "blissful," while Dusted admires its simplicity.

Also by this artist:
School Of The Flower 2005 83
The Sun Awakens 2006 78
RTZ 2009 77
Luminous Night 2009 72
Shelter From The Ash 2007 69
More Good February Albums
Album Label Metascore
Kmag Yoyo (& Other American Stories) by Hayes CarllLost Highway80
Shapeshifting by Young GalaxyPaper Bag Records80
S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT by Akron/FamilyDead Oceans Records80
Yuck by YuckFat Possum80
Bella by Teddy ThompsonVerve79
Smart Flesh by The Low AnthemNonesuch79
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will by MogwaiSub Pop78
Underneath the Pine by Toro y MoiCarpark Records78
Go-Go Boots by Drive-By TruckersATO78
Tao of the Dead by ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of DeadSuperball Music77
Party Store by The DirtbombsIn the Red Records77
Tell Me by Jessica Lea MayfieldNonesuch76
Hotel Shampoo by Gruff RhysTurnstile76
Live albums and reissues:
Faith: Special Edition by George MichaelSony Music90
Live: The Storyteller by Todd SniderAimless Records86

The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). User scores represent an average of scores assigned by Metacritic.com site visitors on a scale from 0 (bad) to 10 (good). All scores are from March 1, 2011. Albums with fewer than 7 reviews are excluded.

What do you think?

What new albums or songs are in heavy rotation on your MP3 player? Let us know in the comments section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (5)

  • M.H.  

    Nothing really good this month IMO
    King of Limbs was really disappointing tbh. It sounds like the Radiohead stereotype that ignorant people always place on their music

  • Rob  

    Tristen's "Charlatans at the Garden Gate" needs to be up there. Just a terrific piece of pop.

  • flip  

    Very well put together. This template should be used on all entertainment (Video games etc). This site is getting much better after the initial change that was made. Brilliant.

  • Brother B  

    Radiohead's lame and incoherent limbs should not be even on the list.Are the songs B-sides leftover?
    Yes, PJ Harvey is top form - quirky and in a very good way and that talented james Blake...wow !!!!!
    Perhaps Gruff Rhys and Toro Y Moi should be on the list?

  • John  

    This is great. I would love you forever if you made one of these for video games!!! Please!!!

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