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Style & Culture

How I Hear It: Great albums from Jan. and Feb. 2013

Keeping track of new music is tough. According to music review aggregate site Metacritic, 163 albums have been released this year. That doesn’t include count records too obscure and not noteworthy enough for the site.

I’m not claiming that I’ve been able to sort through all of those and tell you with supreme confidence what the best albums of Jan. and Feb. 2013 are. But, in case you need a starting point to catch up with the past two months, here are a few of my favorites in no particular order:

Hayden – “Us Alone”

Starting with self-released albums on cassette — that were actually solid — later morphing into a more refined songwriter, Canadian musician Hayden has been going at it in relative obscurity since the mid-1990s. His latest record will probably also go underappreciated, which is a shame: the Neil Young-ish duet “Blurry Nights” and the mellow opener “Motel” will be left unheard.

My Bloody Valentine – “MBV”

This is the release heard ‘round the world — the one that essentially broke the Internet. In short, 22 years after the release of their classic 1991 album,“Loveless,” the legendary shoegaze group suddenly and without much warning released a new record at the start of this month. Much like their landmark record, “MBV” is often a wall of sound with beauty waiting behind the chaos for those patient or perceptive enough to notice.

Foals – “Holy Fire”

The follow-up to one of my favorite albums, 2010’s “Total Life Forever,” is a real firecracker. It’s upbeat and poppy like its predecessor, but it has a newfound edge that doesn’t try to drown out their old sensibilities. The first two tracks are almost jarringly leaning toward alternative rock, but familiarity returns for the rest of Foals’ wonderful third album.

Eels – “Wonderful, Glorious”

Eels, which is primarily Mark Everett, are at their best at their most stripped down. The acoustic and hopeful “On The Ropes” is the group’s best track since 2010’s “Little Bird,” another delicate little ditty. There’s always room for a dose of alternative weirdness, though, like in the slice of indie grunge that is “New Alphabet.”

Jim James – “Regions of Light and Sound of God”

This one was actually somewhat underwhelming, probably because of the high standards set by James’ main gig, My Morning Jacket. Out of that context, this record would probably seem more interesting. Still, opening number “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” is better than many MMJ songs. As for the others, maybe this record is a grower that requires the listening party to cast preconceived southern-rock notions aside and see James in his own region of light.

Local Natives – “Hummingbird”

There is no sophomore slump here: Local Natives’ second record is upbeat yet introspective, classic yet futuristic and other contradictions. Casting aside most of the barefoot-walk-through-the-woods sound of their first album, “Hummingbird” is a more consistent and more fun album, not to mention that “Ceilings” is one of the most gentle songs of the year, although it’s actually quite driving.

Yo La Tengo – “Fade”

Along with My Bloody Valentine, Yo La Tengo are keeping the ’90s alive in 2013. They’ve shifted their sound a lot over the years. But this time around, they’ve settled primarily on a more relaxed nature — see “I’ll Be Around.”