The 10 Best Albums of February 2020

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The 10 Best Albums of February 2020

Everything nasty I could say about February and its faults as a month has already been said…too much snow…six more weeks of winter…loneliness…blah, blah, blah. But what, perhaps, hasn’t been said about this godforsaken month? That it’s a great one for music! February brought us some of the first truly great albums of 2020, including Soccer Mommy’s color theory and Hailey Whitters’ The Dream. There’s plenty of good to dive into here, but if you’re hungry for more, head on over to our best songs of February list for a playlist. Now, finally, bring on March—with these new albums in tow, we’re ready.

Here are the 10 best albums of February, according to Paste’s music critics:

10. Beach Bunny: Honeymoon

Sometimes the simplest feelings are the most universal. When Beach Bunny lead singer Lili Trifilio sings, “You love me / I love you / You don’t love me anymore, I still do / I’m sorry / I’m trying / I hate it when you catch me crying” on “Rearview,” a slow pop-punk ballad that builds to a thrilling, hands-in-the-air finish, it’s hard not to think back to some time where you, too, have felt the exact same way. It’s a cliché to say that this record’s lyrics read like a diary entry, but Honeymoon truly does: With the same raw energy as Camp Cope’s Georgia Maq or Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, Trifilio sings—and occasionally screams—of her innermost desires and heartbreaks over some of the smartest and catchiest pop-punk songwriting in quite some time. It’s easily the most fun album I’ve heard so far this year, a record that’s just begging to be played at parties once winter finally ends. —Steven Edelstone

9. HMLTD: West of Eden

London five-piece HMLTD were all the rage in 2017. The release of thrilling, oddball punk singles like “To The Door” and “Satan, Luella, And I” prompted media buzz, led to outrageous, over-the-top sold-out shows and even landed them a major label record deal. But as recently reported by the NME, their deal with Sony soured after wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars recording material that never saw the light of day and after realizing that the label wasn’t interested in allowing them to have full creative control. Four years since the band first emerged, we’ve finally received their debut full-length West of Eden, and although their initial media hype has deflated, their off-the-wall personalities and dramatic vision can still be found here. For one thing, those two aforementioned singles that shook the U.K. music scene found their way on to the tracklist. Elsewhere, there are traces of anime pop (“Why?”), Britpop (“Blank Slate”), synth-punk (“149”) and theatrical acoustic pop (“War is Looming”), but their mystifying arrangements and devotion to artistry underpins each track. There’s a high bar to entry here both musically and lyrically. West of Eden attempts to “incite conversation about proposed new visions of masculinity, the decadence of western capitalism and the violence of insecurity and repression,” and whether or not they’ve bit off more than they can chew is a fair question, but this will surely go down as one of the most thought-provoking releases of the year. —Lizzie Manno

8. Tennis: Swimmer

Rarely when uttering the words “for better or for worse” on their wedding day do couples really consider the latter half of that sentiment. Most of life’s darkest days often occur after two people have committed themselves to one another: loved ones fall ill or die, responsibilities mount and any number of unexpected catastrophes may land on your doorstep. You’re not seeking a partner for a pleasure cruise, but rather for an intrepid, Magellan-style circumnavigation, in which sailors get scurvy or fall overboard because they mistook a manatee for a mermaid. There are moments of wonder and discovery, but often those are bookended by rough seas. Married duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, better known as Tennis, have recently endured one of the most difficult stages of their life, but found solace in each other throughout. Following the commercial success of Yours Conditionally in 2017, Moore wound up in the hospital with a bad bout of the flu, Riley’s father Edward died of cancer and his mother Karen was hospitalized “on the brink of a stroke,” Moore recalls. Swimmer was borne from this heart wrenching period of time, a fitting name considering the sailing motif in Tennis’ discography (Cape Dory recounts their post-college sailing trip along the East Coast, and most of Yours Conditionally was written during their journey at sea from San Diego to the Sea of Cortez). Moore herself never learned to swim, just as most of us are not taught how to navigate the choppy waters of grief and strife. —Clare Martin

7. Sega Bodega: Salvador

Every once in a while, a producer will come around with enough charisma and bravado to (slowly) transition into subversive pop stardom. Think How To Dress Well’s gut-wrenching, sensual R&B, or the way Arca’s quivery avant-garde beats led to her deconstructive diva status—there comes a point where an artist’s production is so crisp, it’s not a question of how the album is engineered. Instead, it becomes a game of elevation. Salvador, the debut album by Sega Bodega (aka Salvador Navarrete), by no means sounds like a first attempt from the Glaswegian producer. Known for his “deconstructive club” work with NUXXE labelmates Shygirl and Coucou Chloe, an imprint the three founded together, Navarrete’s work is defined by his maximalist yet sensitive ear. Throughout Salvador, Navarrete uses the lexicon of modern club music and intimate, reflexive lyrics to create an astonishingly confessional art-pop album. There’s a self-awareness to the themes that bind Salvador which prevent it from straying into braggadocious territory. While Navarrete might be flippant with emotions of others, party until he drops and throw abandon out the window, he toils with suicidal ideation, alcoholism, and self-destructive tendencies. If rendered any other way, he would be wholly difficult to like. Instead, Navarrete uses lush soundscapes—almost comically serene—to imbue deep sympathy for his wavering mental state. —Austin Jones

6. Letitia VanSant: Circadian Rhythm

Imagine having Letitia VanSant’s depth of empathy. Feeling as much as she does, and as hard as she does, must hurt: Most of us care only as far as our Twitter feed takes us, but here’s VanSant on her sophomore album, Circadian, talking about such subjects as depression, climate change, gun violence, the stranglehold that corporations have on American politics, and—trigger warning—her own sexual assault. The last of these motifs comprises the body of her opening salvo, “You Can’t Put My Fire Out,” both a hell of a way to start the record off and to reclaim her sense of self following her experience with the unthinkable. But thinking of Circadian only in terms of VanSant’s personal suffering: She has a mighty heart, and she follows it along countless other cathartic pursuits, sometimes even focusing on several at once. On the record’s closing song, “Rising Tide,” she takes a defiant parting shot at the parties responsible for turning the Earth into a slowly-withering hell for the rest of us to endure. “They can pour all this money down the hole in your side / But all the money on Wall Street these tears can’t dry,” she declares, quite possibly through gritted teeth. “They’ve got plans for our pockets, cigarettes for our lungs / Poison for our babies and bullets for our guns.” —Andy Crump

5. King Krule: Man Alive!

One of the hallmarks of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s landmark 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc is its use of extreme close-ups. Individual facial features—the left eye, a chin, a single set of freckles—are shot with uncanny depth from canted angles, spiritualizing a saint from some perspectives and indicting a heretic in others. The film is regarded as an early example of cubist filmmaking, and rightfully so: Everything about it just feels italicized. When King Krule recently cited The Passion of Joan of Arc as an influence on his new album, something clicked. A career-long pattern asserted itself: The artist born Archy Marshall has been trying to make cubist music. Man Alive!, the latest from the brooding Londoner, sounds like an attempt to clarify that; the sonics throughout are malleable and the perspectives are all over the place, but there’s an undeniable—and undeniably unnerving—unity to the album’s composure. Recontextualizing the best elements (and, arguably, the unfulfilled promises) of his discography in a finally-defined voice, Marshall has made his first truly great record from front to back. —Harry Todd

4. Hailey Whitters: The Dream

Last year, the Iowa-raised, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Hailey Whitters released “Ten Year Town,” a feeling number about something country artists have been moaning about for the entirety of the genre’s existence: small towns, how they trap us and how they’re always there waiting, even if you’re lucky enough to make it out. But “Ten Year Town,” now the opener on Whitters’ new album The Dream—which she fully funded herself with money she earned waiting tables and plucked from her savings—doesn’t feel sorry for itself, or bemoan a geographical situation. Her outlook remains overwhelmingly positive. “Dreams come true and I think mine will,” Whitters sings. With this album, she graduates from Dream-er to doer. But the real “dream,” for most people, that is, is “a paycheck at the end of the week,” an indulgent cigarette, the miracle of the earth’s rotation and some people to accompany you on the long ride. “We’re all just livin’ the dream,” Whitters sings on the record’s final song. The Dream cherishes working-class triumphs and even failures, as country music always has. You won’t find a radical change where that content is concerned. But Hailey Whitters’ heartfelt manner of describing those ups and downs is what makes her dream so damn charming to behold. —Ellen Johnson

3. Tame Impala: The Slow Rush

In 2012, Kevin Parker was an introvert. It’s no wonder he titled his now classic sophomore record Lonerism: Those 12 songs document the internal anger, anxiety and social self-sabotage of a man who so badly wanted to be personable and in love, but was legitimately unable to even muster up the courage to talk to a woman he was interested in. Over the best and most inventive psychedelic rock instrumentals in decades, Parker let all of his apprehensions and regrets out, knowing full well he’s “gotta be above it now” and that he “can’t let them bring me down” though he’s long realized they will. Optimism led him astray. He felt like he was only going backwards, and he was left wondering why won’t they talk to him. Eight years later, things are wildly different. Headlining festivals and writing for pop and rap stars, Kevin Parker is finally confident. He’s now wondering aloud about getting a home in Miami, going and getting married and tattooing her name on his arm (“Instant Destiny”) and thinking back on how he was feeling a year prior when he had no cares in the world (“One More Year”). He’s such a changed man that he even admits to being unable to identify with his old records: “There’s no use trying to relate to that old song,” he croons at the beginning of “Tomorrow’s Dust.” And will The Slow Rush blow your mind? Probably, but maybe in a much different way than you were likely expecting from a Tame Impala record. Instead of aiming to melt the brains of tens of thousands of twenty-somethings in a field on psychedelics (though this likely still will, let’s be honest), Parker instead turns his eye toward dancehalls, replacing fuzzy guitars and impressive percussion with bouncy piano and dance-y synths. —Steven Edelstone

2. Moses Sumney: græ Part 1

In a wash of bold spoken-word and orchestral art-pop lives Moses Sumney’s græ. It’s part one of the follow-up to his 2017 critically-acclaimed debut Aromanticism, and it revels in its lack of concern for stylistic, emotional and thematic boundaries. Powerful meets delicate. Sacred meets profane. Over-the-top meets minimal. Angels meet devils. It blurs lines with purpose and direction, fluttering between dramatic rock, jazz and R&B—often cloaked in Sumney’s sweeping falsetto and artful background bluster. Sumney’s musings on identity, love and morality carry a staggering amount of gravitas. Whether he exemplifies the sensual, delicate or powerful, his dramatic compositions drip with grace. As for part two, we can only hope that it’s as masterful as this. —Lizzie Manno

1. Soccer Mommy: color theory

Although Soccer Mommy’s 2018 debut studio album Clean transformed her into a critical favorite, indie-rock leader and tour opener for Paramore, Kacey Musgraves and Vampire Weekend, anyone who’s grappled with mental illness knows that success isn’t a salve. Following Clean, Soccer Mommy (real name Sophie Allison) became especially vocal about her struggles with body dysmorphia, depression and anxiety. These challenges lied solely at the periphery of Clean’s tales about youthful, regretful romantic breakdowns and insecurities, but on her eagerly anticipated Clean follow-up color theory, Allison bravely pulls her mental illness from the sidelines to the forefront, and she also tackles a grave subject she’s spoken about far less frequently: her mother’s terminal cancer. Success neither curing mental illness nor reversing a parent’s medical death sentence is a lot for a 22-year-old to face, but Allison is more than up to the task. color theory is an astounding feat of lyricism as clever as it is devastating, and Allison’s songwriting, production and voice are likewise orders of magnitude stronger than they were on Clean, recalling ’90s alt radio while pushing Soccer Mommy in galvanizing new directions. To call it an early contender for the year’s best indie rock album wouldn’t be an exaggeration. —Max Freedman

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