The 10 Best Albums of February 2018

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The 10 Best Albums of February 2018

February may be the shortest month of the year, but there was no shortage of great music spinning in the Paste Music office this month. From returning favorites like Screaming Females and Born Ruffians to exciting emerging artists like Caroline Rose, there was plenty to keep our ears busy. Here are the 10 albums we loved the most in February.

10. Kal Marks: Universal Care
Rating 7.8
Universal Care opens with the menacing and churning “Fuck This Guy,” in which Carl Shane’s guttural yawps drown in the ferocious, pummeling rhythms of bassist Michael Geocone and drummer Alex Audette. Even amid their most punishing sounds, Kal Marks find time to incorporate more delicate, unexpected observations. The title track is a well-measured march toward liberation culminating in soft, eerie atmospherics, while the surprisingly sprightly “A Place Amongst the Angry Hordes” adds the illuminating twinkle of keys. “Loosed” ventures into experimental post-punk territory, balancing tense dynamics with the band’s signature distortion. At nearly seven minutes, it’s the record’s sprawling and heroic masterpiece; as always, Kal Marks shine brightest when they accent their trademark grime with crisper, more lucid moments like these. —Loren DiBlasi

9. U.S. Girls: In a Poem Unlimited
Rating 7.8
In a Poem Unlimited finds Meg Remy as mercurial as ever, shapeshifting her voice and the music surrounding it as easily as she switches characters. When she steps out of the ‘70s and into another club decade with the chill-house beat of “Rosebud,” she sounds a bit like Madonna as she coos zingers like “It’ll hurt/I promise” as if they’re sweet nothings. She looks for a resolution on “Poem,” electronic gurgles and glitches swirling around her most pointed question, “So what are we gonna do to change?” —Madison Desler

8. Caroline Rose: LONER
Rating 7.8
Caroline Rose’s fine new album finds the New York-based singer-songwriter exploring an entirely new musical aesthetic without sacrificing any of the mischievous spark that coursed through her earlier work. On LONER, Rose has ditched roots-rock in favor of a punchier, studio-powered pop sound, packed with danceable beats, prominent synths, big choruses and plenty of swagger. She remains unafraid of singing about serious subjects (capitalism, sexism, death, etc.) but on LONER, she delivers them through a bold, candy-colored filter that’s always intriguing and often irresistible. —Ben Salmon

7. MGMT: Little Dark Age
Rating 8.0
MGMT are a little young to be turning into tired old men. Yet, on the duo’s fourth studio album Little Dark Age, co-band leaders Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser sound as if a lot is weighing them down: the current political climate (according to them, the title is meant to be reassuring that this bleak period will be a fleeting one), our tech addictions, regretting one’s wasted time and modern dating. It’s a lot of bitter pills to swallow in one go. But stroking our necks to make the medicine go down is some of the band’s most dreamy and druggy music to date. —Robert Ham

6. Hurry: Every Little Thought
Rating 8.1
The songs on Every Little Thought can handle the spotlight. They share a bunch of great qualities: mostly clean-sounding rhythm guitars, aching vocal melodies featuring lots of extended notes, a persistent sense of melancholy. Hurry’s rhythm section—cousins Joe and Rob DeCarolis on bass and drums, respectively—is prominent and invaluable, providing Scottoline’s songs with a sturdy backbone and some extra momentum. —Ben Salmon

5. Julian Lage: Modern Lore
Rating 8.1
Julian Lage contains many guitar personae within his slender frame. A prodigy from an early age, the now-30-year-old has spent his career sliding fluidly between projects like the languid cool jazz of his work with saxophonist Dayna Stephens, folksy duets with David Grisman, and thoroughly modern fare as with his recent recording of John Zorn compositions. When he takes the lead, as he does on Modern Lore his new trio album recorded with drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Scott Colley, he gives the many sides of his musical personality a turn in the spotlight. The result is a snappy, multi-colored affair that gives him ample room to show off his unmatched skills with his chosen instrument. —Robert Ham

4. H.C. McEntire: Lionheart
Rating 8.2
Lyrically, H.C. McEntire—a rare openly gay woman making country music—touches on spirituality, sexuality, politics and Southern culture, with much of Lionheart’s material written while the battle for LGBTQ rights intensified in North Carolina. So in “When You Come For Me,” when McEntire sings “Mama, I dreamed that I had no hand to hold. And the land I cut my teeth on wouldn’t let me call it home,” it’s comforting, inspiring even, to know that she has Phil Cook and Tift Merritt and William Tyler and others backing her musically. There is strength in numbers, and McEntire is a strong, centering presence in these songs. —Ben Salmon

3. Born Ruffians: Uncle, Duke & The Chief
Rating 8.3
Described by the band as “going back to the deepest, most satisfying itch to scratch,” Uncle, Duke & The Chief is certainly a return. You can hear the downsizing on “Miss You,” stripped-down guitar and Steve Hamelin’s trusty kick-drum staying out of the way of the soaring chorus. All energy, energy, energy, “Fade To Black” wouldn’t be out of place on the first album. As Hamelin’s propulsive drumming combining with Lalonde’s inherent, punk playfulness, they take things back to when their songs felt like being on a roller coaster, zooming around corners and clattering down the wooden track into the exhilaration of the chorus. Even “Side-Tracked,” which takes a laid-back turn with soul-inflected guitar and an easy tempo, hits the melancholy sweet spot. Its talk of wasted potential and lack of follow-through is cushioned by a cascading hook that you’ll be singing for days. —Madison Desler

2. Screaming Females: All at Once
Rating 8.4
Much of Screaming Females’ appeal, and even their greatness, is their esotericism—in particular the impenetrable world of Marissa Paternoster’s hermetic guitar, lyrical poetry and visual art. The New Jersey trio’s seventh studio album, All at Once, veers from that world sharply, collecting some of the most conventionally anthemic and melodic rock songs of their career. The ironic twist is that for this particular group, who made their name on angular, punk-infused freakouts with Paternoster’s fog-horn voice out front, this counts as their experiment, one for which their previous albums, spent developing their own inimitable sound, has well prepared them. —Beverly Bryan

1. Nils Frahm: All Melody
Rating 8.6
His new full-length, All Melody, is Nils Frahm’s first major solo work since Spaces, and it finds its maker exploring new sounds and new spaces with often stunning results. Over the past few years, Frahm has scored films, collaborated with other artists (like singer-songwriter Woodkid and hip-hop producer DJ Shadow) and reunited with the band of his youth. Along the way, he has clearly indulged some sonic wanderlust; All Melody feels like the first delectable fruits of that labor. — Ben Salmon

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