For the quickest month of the year, February 2022 sure did pack a knockout punch. Stuffed with much-anticipated releases, its 28 days delivered and then some, with veteran and up-and-coming acts alike putting out albums that stopped the Paste Music team in its collective tracks. Some we could see coming (Big Thief’s career-best double album, for instance), while others took us by surprise along the way (like Cities Aviv and Kill Alters). But make no mistake: All 10 of these records are special. Jump in and enjoy, before March moves in to monopolize your headphones.
Listen to our Best Albums of February 2022 playlist on Spotify here.
In the years after their 2016 album Painting With, Animal Collective’s ambitions started to gear towards scoring visual projects and creating location-based music, until a global pandemic reshaped the way they—and all working musicians—were able to function. Though no strangers to working on music remotely (the original demos for Merriweather were composed over email), the band were met with the challenge of living up to their legacy while facing an uncertain future for the music industry. The result is Time Skiffs, in which Animal Collective find a way to make peace with the swarms of present-day adulthood anxieties while paying tribute to their past. A far cry from the rushed, electronic dirges of their previous album, Time Skiffs finds the band taking their time and doing what they do best: allowing space, texture and infectious melody to whisk the listener away to various sensory destinations, all with the wisdom and confidence of a group who have weathered life’s storms, and recognize the opportunity for joy and growth that resides within them. —Jason Friedman
Once Twice Melody is Beach House’s magnum opus, despite not saying anything new at all. At an eruptive 18 songs, and clocking in at just under an hour and a half, the duo reach for new heights while fortifying their old tricks, joining a short list of artists like AC/DC and Bread who can, seemingly, copy themselves over and over, and never even flirt with a misstep. The duo released the record in chapters, doling out a record enormous in scale yet singular in quality. It’s a grandiose statement about productivity, and an even greater testament to Beach House’s infectious ability to place heavenly motifs against a backdrop of perfect pop hooks. The duo dabble in ambient (“Over and Over”), crash through flickering warmth on “The Bells” and even retreat into their trademark spectrality (“Masquerade”). “Pink Funeral” is one of their best songs in seven years, and the title track is their most sprawling opener since “Zebra.” On every preceding project, Beach House let their instrumentals and sparse lyricism shine; on Once Twice Melody, Legrand and Scally have a lot to say and refuse to mince words, and the result is just as magnetic. —Matt Mitchell
What great bands often do when they realize they’re at the peak of their powers is make a double album. The first year of the pandemic allowed Big Thief the time and space to indulge this hubristic tradition. Faced with their longest break from touring since 2016’s Masterpiece came out, they wrote at a feverish pace and spent five months recording in four distinct sessions—in upstate New York, in California, in the Rocky Mountains, and in Tucson—with four different engineers. By the last session, they had generated some 45 completed songs. The result is Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, a freewheeling creature that vibrates with the restlessness and ramshackle intimacy that have long distinguished this band, blown out to a new scale. It is an uncommonly warm and generous record, 20 songs in all—flitting from campfire folk (“Change”) to clanging cosmic rumination (“Time Escaping”) to countrified hoedown (“Spud Infinity”) in its first three tracks alone—and it solidifies Adrianne Lenker’s place as one of the greatest songwriters to emerge in the last five years. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is not really an indie-rock album, at least not in the way that Two Hands was. There is no successor to “Not” here, nothing that belongs on a mid-2010s indie mood board. Instead, it revels in the earthy, joyously uncool tones of a ’70s hippie-folk record excavated from a garage sale. It is Big Thief’s loosest album and most ambitious album all at once. —Zach Schonfeld
Cate Le Bon’s been called an absurdist—a weirdo, an alien—because her music is industrial and her songwriting is a product of deliberate philosophical interrogation in an era of impatient desire for commodified answers. She works among envelope-pushers like black midi and The Spirit of the Beehive, acts existing on a margin where technical skill and inventive, experimental visions intersect. She’s not quite as singer/songwriter-oriented as Weyes Blood; her electronic compositions aren’t droney or balmy like Ellen Arkbro’s; she’s a Dadaist at heart, an active practitioner of purposefully off-kilter soundscapes and contrarian responses to traditional art of the era. But on Pompeii, Le Bon completely ruptures the mold, using the record to divorce herself from the current subculture of flashy 1980s new wave ripoffs by tackling similar themes of religious affection, but through a subdued, meticulous approach. The LP’s tonal landscape derives from Japanese city pop, Depeche Mode synths, jazz percussion and the Dada bleakness of Cabaret Voltaire. Stella Mozgawa, a frequent collaborator of Le Bon, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, brings patient percussion to the compositions; Stephen Black’s saxophone sounds like a glossy, beautiful earthquake. Samur Khouja’s production energizes Le Bon to lean far into a paradox: ancient texts germinating into contemporary lyricism. —Matt Mitchell
Memphis rap has been synonymous with the dark, grungy horror that was popularized by the likes of Tommy Wright III and Three 6 Mafia. Cities Aviv takes that label and tests its limits, nestling into pockets of silence and ambience in the sounds of his predecessors and exploring how to magnify them. On his latest effort MAN PLAYS THE HORN, Cities combines fuzzy jazz samples with blown-out vocals that give the album a comforting lo-fi feel reminiscent of old-school homemade rap tapes. Hypnotizing jazz band loops and disjointed echoes of choirs layered with chopped up drums combine to show the strengths of Cities’ keen ear for balancing the melodic with the chaotic. It’s Memphis rap at some of its most innovative without failing to pay homage to the ones who paved the way. —Jade Gomez
Until this album, Gang of Youths had not released anything since 2017’s Go Farther in Lightness, which arrived a year before frontman David Le’aupepe lost his father. angel in realtime., which was poised as a reflection on his life and legacy, is a magical journey through understanding cultural identity, regrets and dreams that spark in the wake of grief. Nestled within grandiose, Bruce Springsteen-esque songs layered with strings, choral arrangements and twinkling keys are special pockets of profound wisdom. Gang of Youths channeled the tragedy of loss into a brilliant magnum opus that is as raw as it is universal. —Jade Gomez
Life on Earth, the seventh album by New Orleans-via-New York folk-blues-punk project Hurray for the Riff Raff, is reinvention with a caveat: Singer/songwriter and frontperson Alynda Segarra has taken such leaps over the last decade and a half as a human being, as well as a musician, that their efforts on Life on Earth express reinvention less than they do rebirth. It’s rare for a record so deep in a band’s discography to function as a fresh start after establishing a style, not to mention a personality, over so many years. With Segarra’s newfound sense of self and a new outlook on life and the world comes a new sound, and a new mission, both related to the old but attuned to the moment. Think of Life on Earth as a guide for staying alive and going to ground even when it seems like there’s no ground to go to: From the very first song, “Wolves,” Segarra appears to be giving their listeners tools for evading danger and death. —Andy Crump
Meeting at what the album’s press materials refer to as “the intersection of electronics-infused rock, digital hardcore, freewheeling mutant noise experimentation, and incidental found sound culled from bandleader and composer Bonnie Baxter’s decades-old family recordings,” Kill Alters have returned to deliver their cathartic and, at times, straight-up scary debut full-length, following a string of acclaimed self-released mixtapes and EPs. Rattling percussion, heavy synths and horror movie howls (the acronym in the title stands for “love me or murder me,” which makes perfect sense for the music it contains) come together to create a chilling tribute to Baxter’s mother, presenting both the light and dark sides of familial nostalgia. There’s comfort in the chaos as voices from decades past are warped and torn apart, moving to push forward from trauma by twisting it into new auditory artwork. Making you squirm just as much as it’ll leave you awestruck, Armed to the Teeth L.M.O.M.M. makes for an engaging listen from the first second to the last, and it might not let you go even when you’re done. —Elise Soutar
In a 2021 Ringer oral history on alt-metal band System of a Down’s sophomore album Toxicity, exactly one non-metal musician was quoted—or at least she wasn’t a metal musician at the time. “System of a Down taps this super-dark energy then puts it towards something they have real rage about, like all the insecurity and political toxicity of their homeland, and the state of human existence,” said Sasami Ashworth, aka SASAMI. On her sophomore LP Squeeze, the 31-year-old Los Angeles musician emulates her idols, mostly ditching the yearning shoegaze and dream-pop of her self-titled 2019 debut for metal, industrial and grunge. Through these newly loud and aggressive sounds—Ashworth has also played synth in Cherry Glazerr and, in a couple of TV appearances, Japanese Breakfast—she forges a space in which one can combine their own rage with hers and feel newly liberated through group catharsis, without inflicting any real-world violence. The maelstrom of distorted guitars and pounding percussion results in her best songs yet. —Max Freedman
On his eighth studio album Heterosexuality, Vegas-raised artist Shamir explores his queerness on his own terms and in a world that’s far more accepting, though he’s said “there’s really no mission statement in this [record].” The songs all have meaning, of course, but the ways in which they resonate with different listeners helps Shamir “feel less alone.” Heterosexuality can be an overwhelming listen, packed with emotion and production choices that leave you gasping for air , but it’s also deeply rewarding. Album opener “Gay Agenda” is an industrial banger, like some club-ready Sinead O’Connor. “You’re just stuck in the box that was made for me / And you’re mad I got out and I’m living free / Free your mind, come outside / Pledge allegiance to the gay agenda,” Shamir sings, the last two words soaring ever higher. The track flies in the face of the idea of the “good queer,” willing to make sacrifices for a veneer of acceptability in a heteronormative society, and relishes the idea of the “gay agenda,” that phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of conservatives everywhere. Shamir doesn’t give a fuck about those backwards ass religious nutjobs who claim to care for his soul: “Pray as much as you can, there’s no hope for me / I will see you in hell, I will be bringing the heat.” Regardless of your identity or Shamir’s, Heterosexuality bursts with meaning. Behind every unforgettable hook is a new way to look at ourselves and our world. —Clare Martin
Listen to our Best Albums of February 2022 playlist on Spotify here.