With a chill in the air and 12-foot skeletons on every corner, we’re starting to feel the autumn spirit—but we’re not shifting our focus entirely to October just yet. September brought not only the end of summer, but also a pile of albums worth cozying up to, including career-highlight releases from Alex G, The Beths, Sudan Archives and others. Dive into Paste Music’s favorite albums of September below, and stick around the section this week for our lists of September’s best songs and October’s most-anticipated albums, as well.
Listen to our Best Albums of September 2022 playlist on Spotify here.
Alex G’s work can feel impossible to categorize. When we try to put a label on what he’s doing, those labels feel insufficient. Sure, Rocket is the “folk” record, and House of Sugar is “electronic”—neither tag is inaccurate, but they each come with an asterisk. In truth, Alex G’s brand of indie rock is a mix of several facets that he contorts on a whim. Sometimes he may put a heavier focus on twangy guitars and string arrangements, other times doubling down on his drum machines and vocal manipulation. The result is always different, but the method remains mostly the same. His latest record, God Save the Animals, falls somewhere in between the sonic palettes of its two predecessors, most reminiscent of 2015’s steady-handed Beach Music. While moments on Animals nod at Elliott Smith’s yearning indie rock and others bring to mind Aphex Twin’s uncomfortable, twisted soundscapes, it never skews too far in any one direction. What is new this time around is an explicit appreciation for the substance of, and creative process behind, pop music. —Eric Bennett
Beth Orton wastes no time conveying the spirit of Weather Alive, which opens with its seven-minute title track: “It almost makes me wanna cry / The weather’s so beautiful outside,” she sings, each word like a pebble sending ripples through a pool of piano, guitar and percussion. The atmospheric track radiates gratitude, as befitting of an album that finds Orton creatively reinvigorated (inspired by “a beaten up old piano I bought in Camden Market,” she recalls) after a long layoff—it’s not only her first LP in six years, after 2016’s Kidsticks, and her Partisan Records debut, but also the first self-produced album of her nearly 30-year career. Drummer Tom Skinner (The Smile, Sons of Kemet), bassist Tom Herbert (The Invisible), saxophonist Alabaster dePlume, multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily and engineer Francine Perry helped Orton craft some of her most meditative music yet. That’s not to say it’s all quite so peaceful as the title track: The 1-2 punch of “Fractals” and “Haunted Satellite” makes particular use of Skinner’s mercurial rhythms, setting Orton’s songs in conversation with themselves. They still have much to say. —Scott Russell
Close friends and lovers have the privilege of sharing an exclusive language. And while the joy of knowing another so acutely feels unmatched, the risk of loss runs even higher—if the love affair fizzles or the friendship fades, not only is an alliance broken, but also an entire empire shattered with it. But like an anthropologist who specializes in a dead language or a long-extinct civilization, the parties to the ex-relationship are liable to remain fluent in that shared tongue—they just have no one to speak it with. The Beths’ Elizabeth Stokes introduces the perfect metaphor for this tragedy on the first track of the band’s latest LP: “Love is learned over time / ‘til you’re an expert in a dying field.” Stokes spends the rest of the band’s electrifying third studio LP, also called Expert in a Dying Field, explaining exactly how it feels when you’re that lonely expert, and more specifically how it feels to weather such a scenario in the year 2022, all while cranking out the catchy-as-hell pop-rock melodies The Beths have become known for since the release of their breakout 2018 debut Future Me Hates Me. —Ellen Johnson
Like a mushroom, Fossora arrives with an outer layer of dirt worth scrubbing away to get to the delights inside. The album’s often-baritone sound at first veils it in a muddy shroud: Modulated vocals sometimes substitute for percussion or bass, which can make for a disorienting listen. At other times, bass clarinet—a first-time instrument for Björk, known for building albums from new instruments—appears where you might expect higher-pitched orchestration. It sounds stern and miry, which is surprising since Björk has described the album’s music and mushroom imagery as fun, introducing a disconnect. But the handful of songs that detour from this palette and incorporate the hard techno subgenre gabber—courtesy of contributions from Indonesian duo Gabber Modus Operandi—are immediately a huge joy. These more visceral tracks initially put up some barriers to understanding the more unorthodox ones. The more time you spend with Fossora, though, the more all the instruments feel logically placed within even Björk’s most out-there soundscapes. The murky low end slowly releases its grip from the brighter high end, peeling back each layer of the intricate arrangements, which often twist multiple vocalists and string or woodwind players into unusual shapes. Fossora is a dense, challenging experiment that gradually coheres into an immersive and sometimes unsettling experience. —Max Freedman
If East Atlanta emcee JID showed us who he was on 2017’s The Never Story, then he shows us everything he can be on its successor The Forever Story. The college football player-turned-three-time Grammy nominee’s third studio album, two years in the making and envisioned as a prequel to his debut, continues his story by revisiting its beginnings, retracing the steps he took to get on J. Cole’s radar (and Dreamville label) and become one of Southern hip-hop’s most exciting new voices. JID flaunts his motormouth raps and sonic versatility on “Raydar,” recreates family memories on the slinky “Crack Sandwich,” and oversees soulful slow jams on “Kody Blu 31” and “Can’t Make U Change,” with executive production from longtime collaborator Christo helping to tie it all together. As sprawling as JID’s vision is his cast of collaborators, including Yasiin Bey, Lil Wayne, James Blake, 21 Savage, Lil Durk, EARTHGANG, Kenny Mason, Ari Lennox, Baby Tate, Ravyn Lenae and more. Above all, JID sounds grateful for where he came from, as well as where he is now: “We ate so many bologna sandwiches as a child / I’d kill for one of them shits if I could have one right now,” he raps over bird coos on the triumphant “Money,” at peace with his past and in firm control of his future. —Scott Russell
The debut album from London duo Jockstrap—Georgia Ellery, also of Black Country, New Road, and Taylor Skye—takes all of one minute to announce itself as something remarkable. Opener “Neon” draws you in with sparse acoustic guitar and Ellery’s lithe vocal, only to wallop you with rib cage-rattling bass, a film score-esque theremin sample and a ghostly chorus. It’s the first “holy shit” moment of many on the record, “a collection of Jockstrap tracks that have been three years in the making,” per the duo. Dramatic strings, synths and chanting usher “Concrete Over Water” into EDM banger mode; harp plucks flicker between organic and artificial to introduce “Angst”; closer “50/50” feels like a club anthem for the end of the world. Euphoric and disorienting at once, their deconstructed dance-pop music brings cubist art to mind, assembling familiar shapes into structures that are altogether alien. As Jockstrap leave the launchpad, you can either crane your neck at their dizzying ascent, or hold on for dear life and enjoy the ride, wherever it may take you. —Scott Russell
There’s something in Madison Cunningham’s music for everyone: folk roots, but with jazzy accents and sharp enough guitar and drum lines to allow you to move with it. There’s so much glittering on the surface of Revealer, and then so much that swims underneath. Although the first few tracks sparkle, the album takes you by surprise with curveballs like “Life According to Raechel,” a true heartbreaker in the center of the album that leaves your skin crawling with sorrow, and “Who Are You Now,” relentlessly asking the listener, “Who are you now / Who are you this time?” Her songs feel like perfectly and eccentrically built cupboards, housing everything just so inside different nooks, making well-organized space for the shape of every word and synth swell. From the melodies and arrangements to the lyrics, it is clear that this LP is in the most vulnerable space, one of self-consciousness coupled with a lot of emotion in every possible direction. Cunningham never has to scream to make herself heard. Instead, she often remains low to the ground with her volume, making it all the more powerful when her voice soars into pure upper registers or the cymbals accent her point. On album closer, “Sara And The Silent Crowd,” she aims for her own heart and yours, leaving you with: “And when the glamor dies down, there’s only you now / Only you and yourself to appease the silent crowd / And no one can shelter you now.” —Rosa Sofia Kaminski
Mamalarky’s full-length debut came on like a strong gust of fresh air. Released in early 2020, Mamalarky saw the band, then based in Austin by way of L.A., refine their sound into a powerful, diamond-like refraction of multiple elements, with dream pop and post-2000s psychedelia most apparent on the surface, but with traces of Nintendocore, math rock, jazz fusion and freak folk also quite evident. A vibrant affair, the album captured the band’s ability to be playful, solemn, lavish and angular all at once—without making it seem like an effort for themselves or, crucially, the listener. Where likeminded bands might have aimed for a herky-jerky listening experience on purpose, Bennett and company seemed more intent on touching the sublime. And they succeeded, making a place for themselves among those rare acts who can revel in their musical oddness while sounding graceful somehow. Though it would be fair to say that Mamalarky are part of a movement, they embodied contemporary indie-pop sensibilities with such distinct flair on their first album that it felt like they were nudging us to the cusp of a new paradigm. And sure enough, their sophomore effort Pocket Fantasy tumbles over the edge and lands in uncharted waters with a magnificent technicolor splash. —Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
If there’s one thing L.A.-via-Cincinnati artist Sudan Archives isn’t, it’s average—and on Natural Brown Prom Queen, the follow-up to her 2019 full-length debut Athena, she’s glad to remind you of that herself. “You don’t need those women, they are average,” she coaxes over the sleek disco-soul of opener “Home Maker,” while on the subsequent “Natural Brown Prom Queen (Topless),” she repeats, ”’Cause I’m not average,” backed by rapid handclaps and booming bass. And it is a reminder, as much as it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy—Paste hailed the singer/songwriter, producer and violinist born Brittney Parks as the Best of What’s Next in 2017, on the strength of her self-titled debut EP alone. At 18 tracks and nearly an hour, Natural Brown Prom Queen finds Sudan Archives at her most ambitious, as well as her most introspective, welcoming listeners into the places and experiences that shaped her special talent even as she unleashes it. You could say it’s not your average album. —Scott Russell
Yeah Yeah Yeahs have spent nearly two decades creating transfixing pop rock with beats that you can’t help but dance to, built upon conventional verse-chorus structures and sideswept grooves facilitated by the emotional whims of frontwoman Karen O. Nearly a decade after their last record, 2013’s anticlimactic Mosquito, Yeah Yeah Yeahs make a thunderous return with Cool It Down, an album filled with power ballad after power ballad of pure, otherworldly gloom-disco sludge for dark days. Whereas previous YYYs albums are built on thrills and speed, Cool It Down drives us with its almost manic instrumentation at every corner, subdued and despondent pleas in its lyricism, and an intoxicating, frenetic energy. It’s an understandable response—disturbing, yet hopeful—to all that’s been going on since we last heard from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—and a hell of a ride as Karen O and bandmates dance through a bleak and looming hellscape. —Samantha Lopez
Listen to our Best Albums of September 2022 playlist on Spotify here.