The 15 Best Songs of February 2021

Featuring Noname, José González, serpentwithfeet and more

Music Lists Best Songs
The 15 Best Songs of February 2021

February was a head-spinner of a month in the new music department, with multiple albums likely to end up in the best-of conversation come fall 2021. The shortest month of the year was equally replete with stellar songs, from Spanish-language acoustic balladry and aggro art-rap to sense-overloading hyper-punk and adventurous psych-pop. Queue up the best tracks of February 2021 below, as curated by the Paste music team.

The Armed: “ALL FUTURES”

Detroit, Mich., punk collective The Armed are anonymous no more: The band not only announced a new album ULTRAPOP (April 16, Sargent House) and shared its absolute shredder of a lead single “ALL FUTURES” on Feb. 4, but also revealed their lineup for the first time in a live video for the track. “ALL FUTURES” very much aligns with The Armed’s stated mission “to create the most intense experience possible, a magnification of all culture, beauty, and things”—the rollicking electro-rock track overwhelms by way of pummeling drums, fuzzed-out synths and shouts, and a big, blown-out production sensibility. The Armed’s instrumental firepower is in direct proportion to their ambition, as the song also seeks to catalyze ULTRAPOP’s namesake micro-genre, somehow managing to leave room for melody amidst its sweep-you-off-your-feet squalls of sound. The Armed’s Dan Greene says of this concept, “ULTRAPOP seeks, in earnest, to create a truly new listener experience. It is an open rebellion against the culture of expectation in ‘heavy’ music. It is a joyous, genderless, post-nihilist, anti-punk, razor-focused take on creating the most intense listener experience possible. It’s the harshest, most beautiful, most hideous thing we could make.” —Scott Russell

Floatie: “Catch a Good Worm”

Chicago band Floatie signed to Exploding in Sound and are releasing their debut album, Voyage Out, on March 26. They’ve also shared the album’s lead single “Catch a Good Worm.” Built on slippery rhythms, the track channels piquant indie-pop and sharp math rock, with lead singer Sam Bern challenging the notions of determinism. “You hear the words, but tell yourself / That we deserve, what we’re dealt / But something’s in the way of feeling great / Nothing’s going to swallow, sit and wait,” Bern sings softly with mystique, advocating for a broader view of possibilities. Simultaneously gentle and fickle, “Catch a Good Worm” is an alluring funhouse of sounds. —Lizzie Manno

Flock of Dimes: “Price of Blue”

Flock of Dimes, the solo project of Jenn Wasner, shared her latest single “Price of Blue” on Thursday. The song is the second single released ahead of her sophomore album Head of Roses, out April 2 via Sub Pop. The music video for “Price of Blue,” a six-minute masterpiece of psychedelic guitar riffs and haunting vocals, was co-directed by Wasner and Graham Tolbert. The black-and-white video is a taste of many collaborations to come on Head of Roses, which is slated to include a host of other artists, including Bon Iver’s Matt McCaughan and Wasner’s Wye Oak bandmate Andy Stack. Wasner spoke of her inspiration for “Price of Blue” in a statement: “This song is about trying, and failing, to connect. It’s about the ways in which, despite our best efforts, we misunderstand each other, and become so attached to stories that we’re unable to see the truth that’s right in front of us. And it’s about the invisible mark that another person can leave on your body, heart and mind long after their absence.” —Carli Scolforo

Grrrl Gang: “Honey, Baby”

On their first new material since 2018, Indonesian indie act Grrrl Gang put the jangling guitars and dreamy vocals of Alvvays in a blender with vintage Tame Impala psych-rock touches and yesteryear’s pop harmonies, resulting in the all-around lovely “Honey, Baby.” The Yogyakarta-based trio of Angee Sentana, Akbar Rumandung and Edo Alventa signed to London’s Damnably Records in 2019, and appeared poised for a Stateside breakout via SXSW 2020, though, of course, the pandemic had other plans. But they’re bouncing back by performing at the digital 2021 festival and readying a new album, for which the warm ‘60s psychedelia of “Honey, Baby” bodes quite well. Vocalist and guitarist Sentana says the song is the story of a relationship, recalling, “I tried to reflect and express how sweet the relationship was to me at that time, despite knowing that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I guess, what I was trying to say in this song was, ‘Hey, I am willing to go through this. Are you?’” —Scott Russell

José González: “El Invento”

José González released his first new song in over five years on Feb. 17 with the track “El Invento.” The song is the first in the Swedish singer-songwriter’s career to feature lyrics in Spanish. The music video for “El Invento” features the song’s lyrics in both Spanish and English, making it easy to enjoy the profound lyrical work of González in either language. The song asks questions of creation and purpose against a gentle Spanish guitar as the video offers a sweet glimpse into simple, domestic life. González credits releasing his first work in Spanish to speaking the language with his young daughter in a statement: “Every now and then I try to write lyrics in Spanish—this time I succeeded! I guess talking to Laura in Spanish every day helped. I started writing ‘El Invento’ around 2017 when she was born. The song is about the questions—who we are, where we’re going and why? Whom can we thank for our existence? Historically, most traditions have invented answers to these questions. Thereof the name of the song: The Invention (god).” —Carli Scolforo

Julien Baker: “Heatwave”

One of Paste’s most-anticipated albums of 2021 is finally out, and Nashville singer/songwriter Julien Baker saved the best Little Oblivions single for last. She shared the instrumentally upbeat, yet lyrically harrowing “Heatwave” on Feb. 24 along with a lyric video (created by Sabrina Nichols), following previous singles “Favor” (which featured Baker’s boygenius bandmates Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus), “Hardline” and “Faith Healer.” The standout of the bunch, “Heatwave” is replete with “gruesome beauty,” as Baker sings, opening on the fiery image of an exploded engine, and unspooling from there into thoughts of death and the cosmos, all culminating in an unforgettable lyric (CW: suicide): “I’ll wrap Orion’s Belt around my neck / and kick the chair out.” Baker surrounds all this with some of the more casually dynamic instrumentation of her career, a diffuse set of textures featuring electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, piano and even a theremin, which taps into the chorus-less song’s sense of irrevocable spiritual unrest. —Scott Russell

Lauren Auder: “Heathen”

The third single from London-based singer/songwriter Lauren Auder’s forthcoming third EP 5 Songs for the Dysphoric (Feb. 12, True Panther and Harvest Records), “Heathen” is utterly mesmerizing, blending dark dance-pop and noise-rock sounds, with only Auder’s deep baritone vocals to guide you through the haze. Produced by Clams Casino (Vince Staples, Lil B) and Dviance, the song pulls the tension tight in its verses with thrumming bass and skittering drums, only to release it in the transcendent choruses, collisions of grunge guitar noise and trip-hop accents that loom large in the mind’s eye, and only grow more explosive as “Heathen” crescendoes. “I think this may be my favourite song I’ve ever worked on,” says Auder. “It’s about longing for a test run before life proper. Learning to accept that all we get is a 9 month long bomb shelter before you’re very much in the world.” —Scott Russell

McKinley Dixon: “make a poet Black”

Richmond, Va., rapper McKinley Dixon makes his Spacebomb Records debut on May 7 with For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her, the final installment of an album trilogy that began with Dixon’s self-released 2018 LPs Who Taught You to Hate Yourself? and The Importance of Self Belief. The enthralling lead single from his new album is “make a poet Black,” the creation of which Dixon says came “at a pivotal moment, not only in my musical timeline, but my life”: After losing “someone integral to my childhood,” the artist began to question his memories and himself, which “resulted in a song that challenged who I was, challenged my intentions and created this narrative of me chasing a version of myself that I lost,” he explains. “‘make a poet Black’ is the result of me questioning: What about trauma forces a Black person to feel the need to create?” Over unnerving koto and bass plucks, Dixon struggles not only with the pressure to succeed as an artist (“The money is stackin’ as long as you snappin’”), but also with persistent self-doubt (“You not the realest, you know that, right? / They not gon’ feel this, you know that, right?”). The track’s lyrics and instrumentation each get under your skin, growing increasingly harrowing as its intensity swells, but “make a poet Black” becomes truly special once Dixon releases all that tension, with strings and piano making their way to the forefront in the song’s stunning climax. —Scott Russell

Men I Trust: “Tides”

The first release of 2021 from Quebecois trio Men I Trust, “Tides” is one of those synth-pop reveries that sounds like the bottom of a swimming pool, all cool tones, breathy singing and smooth, soothing electronic textures. Listen a bit closer, though, and the song reveals its darker side: In the shadow of some ill-defined (and therefore far more disquieting) doom, vocalist Emma Proulx finds herself confronting rising tides of fear and trouble, disturbed by “devouts / Who never doubt / Their righteous fervor,” and finding comfort only in small pockets of togetherness. “Oh how sublime / To marvel at an ugly world from home,” she sings over a squelching bassline and gauzy synth strokes, consoling herself as best she can from the inside looking out. “Tides” is the ideal song for finding peace as the world collapses around you, a sweet dream in dark times. —Scott Russell

Noname: “Rainforest”

Noname, the moniker of Fatimah Nyeema Warner, shared her first single of 2021 on Feb. 26, “Rainforest.” The Chicago rapper’s most recent album Room 25 was featured in Paste’s 10 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2018, while her June 2020 one-off “Song 33” appeared on our list of that month’s best songs. “Rainforest” has a danceable beat and features Warner’s frequent collaborator Adam Ness. The singer previously offered vocals on “Prayer Song” and “no name” off Room 25. Warner, who is known for her lyricism, delivers once again on “Rainforest” with standout lines from the hook: “How you get closer to love? / How you lemonade all your sadness when you opening up? / You make excuses for billionaires, / you broke on the bus.” —Carli Scolforo

Paris Texas: “Heavy Metal”

It’s thrilling to see a new act arrive with a clear idea of who they are and what they’re here to do. Enter South Central Los Angeles duo Paris Texas, whose statement debut single “Heavy Metal” ahead of their BOY ANONYMOUS project has the unmistakable intensity and energy of intention. Louie Pastel and Felix trade self-assured verses over a spidery riff that kicks into full overdrive in the choruses, distorted power chords blasting alongside pumping 808 bass, crashing cymbals and flying-saucer synths, all of which collapse into an unexpected shoegaze reverie at the song’s end. Paris Texas’ imaginative raps reference The Matrix and using Orion’s Belt as a weapon, but reveal a deeper pathos beneath all the bold braggadocio: “I just wanted my father’s applause / I just wanted my mother’s applause / I just wanted these crackers’ applause / So I stand on the stage with the bars / So I stand on the stage with the boys.” —Scott Russell

serpentwithfeet: “Same Size Shoe”

Los Angeles-based artist serpentwithfeet shared his latest single “Same Size Shoe” on Wednesday. The artist’s newest release comes ahead of his sophomore album DEACON, out March 26 via Secretly Canadian. DEACON follows serpentwithfeet’s acclaimed debut album soil and is a continued exploration of his perspective on love as a Black, gay man. “Same Size Shoe” professes serpentwithfeet’s preference to date other Black men and enjoy the profound connection that comes through similar life experiences with his closing ad-lib: “You’re my heel and my toe mate / I know that you can actually walk a mile in my shoes / That’s why I love you.” The track is mellow and playful, with serpentwithfeet’s vocalized trumpet solo breaking up the R&B beat. —Carli Scolforo

Skullcrusher: “Song for Nick Drake”

Helen Ballentine’s indie-folk project Skullcrusher continues to come up here in early 2021, releasing her first new material of the year on Feb. 1. Out now via Secretly Canadian, standalone single/video “Song for Nick Drake” follows the June 2020 release of Ballentine’s self-titled Skullcrusher debut EP, as well as her October single “Farm” b/w “Lift,” the latter track a Radiohead cover. “‘Song for Nick Drake’ is about my relationship to the music of Nick Drake,” Ballentine explains in a statement. “It recalls moments in my life that are viscerally intertwined with his music, specifically times spent walking & taking the train. The song is really my homage to music and the times I felt most immersed in it.” “Song for Nick Drake” itself is one to get lost in, as Ballentine recalls quiet times in a bookstore and on a train over dreamy acoustic chords, with gossamer synth and banjo backing. “I walked home alone / With your song in my head / Finally understanding something,” she sings, her voice layering over itself as the song crescendoes, as if to reflect the force of her epiphany. Like a warm blanket on a cold day, “Song for Nick Drake” is particularly resonant in these solitary times, not to mention as deceptively complex and effortlessly hypnotic a song as anything Skullcrusher has released so far—here’s hoping it’s a harbinger of new material, as opposed to just a one-off. —Scott Russell

Spirit of the Beehive: “THE SERVER IS IMMERSED”

Spirit of the Beehive released a new single, “THE SERVER IS IMMERSED,” and an accompanying music video on Feb. 24 ahead of their forthcoming album ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH, out April 9 via Saddle Creek. The song follows their first single off the LP, “THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN’T DO.” The music video for “THE SERVER IS IMMERSED” was edited together by founding band member Zachary Schwartz. The hypnotic track is as captivating as its video, which is equal parts fascinating and unsettling. Audio and visuals are pulled from videos that are not easily identifiable, but appear to include news stories and infomercials from the ‘60s to the ‘80s. These clips are warped with effects and mashed together with other psychedelic visuals, including truly creepy shots of a figure in a rubber mask. The result, combined with Spirit of the Beehive in great form with their enigmatic lyrics and dreamy distortion, make for an experience that grabs the full attention of your eyes and ears. —Carli Scolforo

Will Stratton: “Tokens”

“Tokens” is the opening track and lead single from Hudson Valley folk musician Will Stratton’s forthcoming seventh album The Changing Wilderness, and it has three things foremost on its mind: time, love, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. “The way time shimmers and shifts in that movie is fascinating to me, verging on hypnotic, and I was trying to evoke a little of that feeling in this song,” says Stratton. “Verging on hypnotic” is an apt descriptor for the song itself, a gorgeous layering of acoustic fingerpicking, gentle electric noodling (courtesy of Ben Seretan), judicious piano accents, and Stratton’s murmured memories of transformation, romantic and otherwise—all “the ways we change over time” swimming around in his mind. “Tokens” is the sort of song that feels like a cross-section of human life, not quite fact and not quite fiction, rendered with care and sewed into a lovely folk-pop tapestry. —Scott Russell

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