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An album released just before an artist's death — especially an artist with such promise — can color its reception, but we kept coming back to Pop Smoke's Meet the Woo 2 regardless. We also count new music from Soccer Mommy, rapper Royce da 5'9" and Nashville up-and-comer Katie Pruitt among the best of the month.
Below you'll find an alphabetized list of NPR Music's top 10 albums of February 2020. Be sure to check out our top 20 songs from the month, too.
NPR Music's Top 10 Albums Of February
Angelica Garcia, 'Cha Cha Palace'
Angelica Garcia's Cha Cha Palace is a real place for anyone who grew up Latinx in the U.S. This album bubbles and glows with the iconography of Garcia's Chicana and Mexican-Salvadoran identity and washes of synth and rolling guitars, distilling love of self and community like an agua de rosa. — Stefanie Fernández
Gil Scott-Heron, 'We're New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven'
Musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron's final studio album, released ten years ago, gets modernized by drummer, producer and innovative beat scientist Makaya McCraven. Heron's expression of black creativity, empowerment and dissent continue anew. — Suraya Mohamed
Katie Pruitt, 'Expectations'
Katie Pruitt's songs possess a real sense of patience: They don't barrel toward a payoff so much as unfurl softly. But Expectations never lets go of its sense of purpose, as the Georgia-bred singer crafts richly textured songs about coming out as gay, living for herself, shedding toxicity and seeking help. — Stephen Thompson
Michael Grigoni & Stephen Vitiello, 'Slow Machines'
Initially a fixture in country for its gee-whiz quality, the pedal steel guitar's potential — particularly for creating bottomless, rhizomatic textures — has been steadily revealed over the decades. Now, another layer: Pedal steel player Michael Grigoni and electronics artist Stephen Vitiello's new album, Slow Machines, is like floating in a salt lake. — Andrew Flanagan
Moses Boyd, 'Dark Matter'
The latest salvo from London's insurgent jazz scene is this ingenious meld of Afrobeat, post-bop, grime and 2-step garage — from a drummer-programmer who favors airtight precision even as he valorizes his Afro-Caribbean root system. Featured guests, like Nigerian singer and spoken-word artist Obongjayar, deepen the picture without distraction. — Nate Chinen, WBGO
Pop Smoke, 'Meet the Woo 2'
Just weeks before he was killed in a home invasion, Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke released Meet The Woo 2. Let the tape ride and it plays like a 34-minute drill epic composed of cascading, floor-shaking movements. But sink into the album cuts and you're rewarded. It all embodies the curious mind of a kid from Canarsie who had so much left to prove. — Mano Sundaresan
Royce Da 5'9", 'The Allegory'
The latest album from Detroit rapper/producer Royce da 5'9" is a detailed allegory for black life in America. Tackling everything from racism, white supremacy and politics to community, fatherhood and group economics, Royce packs a world of social issues into these rich, fiery songs. — John Morrison, XPN
Soccer Mommy, 'Color Theory'
On her sophomore record as Soccer Mommy, songwriter Sophie Allison is unflinching in her depiction of depressive episodes and paranoia about looming death. She sets them against a deceptively sunny '90s pop template, staring down adolescent trauma with a tone that's both unsentimental and deeply empathetic. — Marissa Lorusso
Spanish Love Songs, 'Brave Faces Everyone'
With song titles like "Losers" and "Routine Pain," you'd be forgiven for mistaking L.A. quintet Spanish Love Songs as a band of nihilists. Instead, Brave Faces Everyone is a record of solidarity in spite of grim circumstances. Its characters beg to escape and forget, but also to be seen and understood. — Lyndsey McKenna
Thomas Adès, 'Adès Conducts Adès'
With its combustible, kaleidoscopic theatrics and serene spaces of exceptional beauty, Thomas Adès' Concerto for Piano and Orchestra riffs on old classics while speaking a distinctively 21st-century tongue. Paired with the foreboding "Dance of Death," for huge orchestral forces, and voices, the album clinches Adès' status as a contemporary master. — Tom Huizenga
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