While it will always be overshadowed by a shocking list of inspirational artists we’ve already lost, 2016 has been an astonishing year for new music. Any 12-month period that can boast new albums from Radiohead, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, Paul Simon, Weezer, Frank Ocean, Iggy Pop and a heartbreaking last testament from David Bowie must surely be considered an outstanding success, and it’s still only September.
So as if that wasn’t enough, here’s just a few of the delights on offer for the remainder of the year:
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Nick Cave has covered some fairly bleak lyrical topics, sometimes with gallows humor, sometimes without. And it’s not always apparent how much of his own life has been poured into his bruised (and occasionally bruising) musings on violence and grace, inspiration and love. Skeleton Tree is the record (with supporting movie) he has written and recorded since the accidental death of his son in 2015, and, as his label’s press release puts it, it is “a true testament to an artist trying to find his way through the darkness.” The album’s lead single “Jesus Alone” may boast images that seem uncomfortably close to the bone at times, but anyone looking solely to rubberneck on a moment of private family grief may have picked the wrong songwriter.
Skeleton Tree is released on September 9.
Usher – Hard II Love
Usher’s eighth album has been a long time coming, having been pushed back a couple of times, the title changed from UR to Flawed and finally Hard II Love. The trailer singles—”No Limit,” “Rivals” and “Crash”—have been swooshy, reverberant future R&B, in which synths appear woozily, as if out of a dense fog in a cathedral, with a ticking drum machine and Usher’s voice the sole sharp points of reference. The exception is “Missin U”, a dense juxtaposition between grinding hip hop and an older school of R&B, with sumptuous jazz chords and soft, pillowy harmonies.
Hard II Love is released on September 16.
Against Me! – Shape Shift with Me
A perfectly titled album, given the media hoo-hah around Laura Jane Grace‘s transition from male to female (as detailed exhaustively in press coverage of the band’s previous album Transgender Dysphoria Blues), Shape Shift With Me also marks a change in the band’s sound. Always a very melodic sort of punk group, they’ve begun incorporating catchy Tom Petty choruses into their punk sound (“Crash” is here, and here’s “333”, they’re both a bit sweary), making the band notable for breaking new ground AND becoming more traditional at one and the same time.
Shape Shift with Me is released on September 16.
Warpaint – Heads Up
Judging by “New Song,” the lead-off song for their third album, the members of Warpaint have spent more time working on their big pop melodies this time around. Those chuntering guitars and disco beats are still there, but with a greater sense of cohesion. Ironically, this is the result of the band electing not to record live in one room. Instead, they divided off in pairs and layered up the songs without the input of the whole band. The adornments have all had to pass muster with everyone of course, but the freedom to experiment is what gives the new material its sense of glee.
Heads Up is released on September 23.
Beck – TBC
Beck’s albums often alternate between being uptempo and giddy, or maudlin and emotional, and having reestablished himself as a plaintive balladeer on 2014’s Morning Phase, his new album (as yet untitled) is a step back into the light. He told Rolling Stone: “It’s a summer night, people have their hands up. It’s a communal, celebratory thing. I wanted to take that into the studio, a kind of energy or joy. The thing that wakes you up a little bit.”
The recent single “Wow” sounds like The Clangers throwing a crunk party, and is all the better for it:
The as-yet-untitled album currently has a release date of October 21.
M.I.A. – AIM
This may be the final album release from MIA, according to an interview she gave to BBC Radio 1 back in July. And if so, she’s bowing out in exactly the same style as her arrival, with an album of world beats and distorted verbal provocations that resolutely does not give a stuff what you think of it. Former One Direction star Zayn Malik makes a guest appearance on the skeletal “Freedun,” hinting at the pop star status she’s always been a bit too aggro to fully inhabit, although one listen to the politically charged (and NSFW) “Borders” will soon dispel the idea that she’s chasing a hit. In fact, even when she brings in Skrillex to produce a song, the end result is “Go Off,” a brutal, jarring tune with no tune that sounds exactly like M.I.A. and no one else.
AIM is released on September 9.
Pixies – Head Carrier
Pixies fans who found their comeback album (and first without founder member Kim Deal) Indie Cindy a little lackluster may well be in for a pleasant surprise as the band appear to be channeling some of the tension and anxiety that fueled their early albums. Granted, Black Francis still sings with a deep croon rather than a venomous scream and there’s nothing as primal and unhinged as “Tame” or “Nimrod’s Son” on offer, but his melodic gifts are strongly in evidence, as is his ability to put together an arresting chord sequence, and then play it again at facequaking volume. They’ve just unveiled “Tenement Song,” and it’s rather good:
Head Carrier is released on September 30
Regina Spektor – Remember Us to Life
Having taken most of the last four years off doing her own thing, it’s a relief to welcome Regina Spektor back to active service with a typically off-kilter pop song. It feels like a good moment for singer-songwriters to wander into odder terrains, given the global ubiquity of both Ed Sheeran and Adele—excellent in their own way, but very traditional musically—and a ton of reasonably identikit musical diarists with ukuleles. By contrast, Regina’s sharp lyrical flow (as heard in full proto-rapping effect on “Small Bill$”) and klezmer chord changes puts her right back where she was before she left, ahead of the pack.
Remember Us to Life is released on September 30.
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Justin Vernon is clearly easily distracted. His work helping other musicians finish their albums—from James Blake’s The Colour in Anything to Kanye West’s Yeezus—appears to have taken precedence on getting his own finished, and it’s been five years since he last had a full collection of songs in the (virtual) shops. This could also be because his own musical productions tend to mine his most private and tender thoughts, and those are painful to exploit. 22, A Million has been trailed by a series of video clips, most notably “God,” a bewilderingly dense song of troubled faith.
22, A Million is released on September 30.
Survive – RR7349
Anyone who devoured the Netflix series Stranger Things will already be familiar with the music of Survive, as Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein from the band wrote the brooding electropop score, giving it a unique musical fingerprint. With a sound inspired by synth saturated early ’80s film scores, this is definitely an album to listen to while walking around a bleak urban landscape on a rainy day, pretending you’re in Blade Runner.
RR7349 is released on September 30.
Sting – 57th and 9th
In a year when some of the brightest and best of pop’s old guard have passed on, it’s curiously reassuring to note that Sting has made his first proper rock album in years. You can tell he’s gone back to the raucous guitars of his Police years because he now wears one of those fitted leather jackets that only proper rock stars can get away with. And he’s let his hair grow out a bit too. Songs have been inspired by global events (you’ll be expecting a climate change song, and you won’t be disappointed) but also the same shocks that have rocked the musical world. “50,000” was written at a piano while Sting reeled at the news that Prince had died.
57th and 9th is released on November 11.
Barry Gibb – In The Now
Speaking of grand returns, it’s been a long time since we heard new songs from Bee Gees founding member Barry Gibb in any capacity. His last album with the band was in 2001, two years before the death of his brother Maurice effectively brought an end one of music’s most productive hit-making teams. Having lost his vocal foil Robin in 2012, Barry is now the sole remaining Bee Gee, but rather than strike out as a solo songwriter, he’s been working up new ideas with his sons Stephen and Ashley. Having reestablished his presence with a surprise appearance with Coldplay at this year’s Glastonbury festival, he returns to active duty with a collection of 12 comfortingly familiar songs. Here’s a trailer:
In The Now is released on October 7.Read More