The Round-Up: 10 Albums Released in February That You Must Hear

We just said goodbye to an incredible month of music. One with the strongest slate of releases that I can remember in a really long time. Of all the interesting releases that dropped this month, ten stood out above the rest. Here’s my round-up of them.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.05.00 PMStormzy
Gang Signs & Prayer
#Merky
In a month that yielded a clutch of excellent LPs, nothing could touch the South London MC’s gorgeous, gospel-tinged epic. Over 16 diverse, consistent tracks, the big man (né Michael Omari) vacillates between sticky, booming bangers (“Big For Your Boots,” “Mr Skeng,” “Cold”), heart- wrenching confessionals (“Lay Me Bare,” “100 Bags”), and even a few gooey love songs (“Velvet,” “Cigarettes & Cush”). The result is an impressive, fully-formed statement that leaves you feeling closer to the artist and reeling from his incredible talent and storytelling. An early favorite for Album of the Year.

Hottest Jams: “100 Bags,” “Big For Your Boots,” “Lay Me Bare”

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.14.53 PMFuture
FUTURE // HNDRXX
Freebandz / Epic
After enjoying one of the all-time hot streaks from the middle of 2014 through the end of 2015, the indomitable Atlanta native was showing signs of slowing down last year. However, he came through with a pair of triumphant projects this month. Though the first is a solid, yet uneven effort, HNDRXX is an exhilarating return to form. Melodic, confessional, and full of earworms, it feels like his most well-rounded, focused work since his legendary trilogy of Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights. Future Vandross > All.

Hottest Jams: “Fresh Air,” “Incredible,” “Solo” (HNDRXX)
“Mask Off,” “Feds Did A Sweep,” “Draco” (FUTURE)

Stream HNDRXX on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.14.08 PMJens Lekman
Life Will See You Now
Secretly Canadian
On most other months, the venerable Swede’s fourth LP would have topped a list like this, but timing has never been his strong suit. That said, Life Will See You Now is a phenomenal feat with ten tracks that could only be penned by a master storyteller. Whether he’s dealing with the perils of masculinity (“How Can I Tell Him”), crippling anxiety (“Postcard #17), or a struggling friend (“Hotwire the Ferris Wheel”), he always writes with a rare empathy, offering penetrating insight into the lives of his characters and, often, his listeners as well.

Hottest Jams: “How Can I Tell Him,” “Dandelion Seed,” “Wedding in Finistére”

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.13.24 PMSampha
Process
Young Turks
This month has produced so many great records that it’s almost hard to remember that the 28 year-old’s beautiful debut dropped back on February 3rd. Process was a couple years in the making, and you can tell. He begins the record exhausted and anxiety-ridden, feeling like a plastic bag that is melting in the summer sun. Longing for home, he takes us on the road with him to his new life as an adult and shares nostalgic daydreams about the piano he grew up with. It’s a beautiful, affecting journey that ends as they often do… back home at the place where it all started.

Hottest Jams: “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” “Plastic 100°C,” “What Shouldn’t I Be?”

Stream it on Spotify.

rs-ryan-adams01-4b269365-c7e6-47af-82f7-d2b9388ffe9bRyan Adams
Prisoner
PAX-AM
The strongest Ryan Adams record in a decade, Prisoner finds the 42 year-old writing himself out of the post-divorce rubble, inspired by Tunnel of Love, Tom Petty, and Johnny Marr. Though Prisoner has a clutch of the kind of crushing, quiet moments you’d expect from an Adams break-up record (“Shiver and Shake,” “We Disappear”), they are well-balanced by mid-tempo tunes (“Haunted House,” “Prisoner”) and noisey AM radio rockers (“Do You Still Love Me?,” “Anything I Say to You”). In fact, the latter tracks are kinda the most intriguing part of Prisoner. As he sounds surprisingly refreshed and primed for the next phase of his life and career. And that’s something worth celebrating.

Hottest Jams: “Prisoner,” “Shiver & Shake,” “Haunted House”

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.19.18 PMTeen Daze
Themes For Dying Earth
Flora
Jamison Isaak’s sixth album is one of the most surprising efforts of the year. I’d really only ever known him as a sort of chillwave also-ran, but Themes for a Dying Earth is a gorgeous collection of lush, affecting ambient indie-pop with hushed but heartfelt vocals. The record sounds like a foggy morning in the mountains, inspired by the perma-hazy British Columbia wilderness it was recorded in. It’s both a tribute to the beauty of Isaak’s surroundings and also a quiet warning about what’s at stake as we continue to bury our heads in the sand as our planet suffers.

Hottest Jams: “First Rain” (f/ S Carey), “Cycle,” “Dream City”

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.23.49 PMVagabon
Infinite Worlds
Father/Daughter
Lætitia Tamko’s proper debut is fresh, vibrant, and packed with affecting and daring songwriting. From its gut-wrenching leadoff track, “Embers,” that explores power dynamics in relationships to its heartbreaking finale, “Alive and A Well,” Infinite Worlds is a powerful collection from an artist with a unique and necessary voice. The disc’s eight tracks feature an interesting mix of piercing, fingerpicked folk, alongside crashing rock moments and electronic touches. Tamko is one of an exciting new batch of young female singer-songwriters like Julien Baker, Georgia Maq, Mitski, and Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast). It’s a generation of artists who don’t fit into old ideas about what folk is supposed to sound like and who is allowed to make it.

Hottest Jams: “Fear & Force,” “Embers,” “Alive And A Well”

Hear it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.26.39 PMElbow
Little Fictions
Polydor
Ryan Adams isn’t the only old favorite who dropped a rejuvenated effort this month. The Manchester crooners are coming up on their 20th year in existence, and they toasted the anniversary with one of the strongest albums of their career. They’ve always been at their best when they’re balancing melancholia with hope, crafting weirdly anthemic ballads that work as well in a quiet pub as the Glastonbury Festival. Tracks like “Magnificent (She Says)” and “All Disco” feel like they hit that mark and hint that they’re not content to continue as a mere nostalgia act.

Hottest Jams: “Gentle Storm,” “Magnificent (She Says),” “Kindling”

Kingdom-RotatorKingdom
Tears in the Club
Fade to Mind
The Fade to Mind mainman has been an important member of the LA club scene for the better part of a decade, but Tears in Club still feels like a maiden statement. The disc is 50%  pop-oriented tracks that feature exciting young vocalists like SZA, Syd, and Shacar, and 50% instrumental, hyper-melodic dance tracks. Though I tend to gravitate to the former, they are well framed by the latter, resulting in a compelling, versatile body of work.

Hottest Jams: “Down 4 Whatever” (f/ SZA), “Nothin” (Club Mix)” (f/ Syd), “What is Love” (f/ SZA)

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.30.44 PMVermont
II
Kompakt
We’ll finish off the list with a lovely ambient effort from Danilo Plessow and Marcus Worgull. II is packed with warm, swirling synths that set a placid, wintery mood. Though percussion is at a minimum, you can really hear Balearic influences in the synth melodies, and it’s easy to picture yourself looking out the window in Vermont and dreaming of warmer climes.

Hottest Jams: “Norderney,” “Demut,” “Chanang”

Stream it on Spotify.

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