With the Song of the Summer debate finally fading in the rearview (it was a tie between Iggy and Ariana, right?), it’s time to look ahead to fall’s musical promise. Autumn always feels like a time to get weird, to invest in albums after a sunny singles-filled season.
This fall, we’re seeing a few trends: indie/alt rock staples searching for reinvention (Weezer, Wilco, Interpol, even Karen O); the adventurous new sounds of English pop, whose players are looking to prove themselves beyond promising debuts (SBTRKT, Jessie Ware, alt-J, Charli XCX); and bold departures from mid-level experimentalists several albums in (Perfume Genius, Flying Lotus, Zola Jesus). Also, Taylor Swift.
Nicki Minaj may not let the season pass without putting her Pink Print all over it, and I guarantee it’ll be one of the year’s most exciting mainstream pop records. But for now, let’s focus on the albums that have been announced, as the competition is already stiff enough.
Karen O — Crush Songs (September 9, Cult)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs leader Karen O has diverged into soundtrack territory with her solo work, including songs for Her, Where the Wild Things Are, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and more. This fall, however, she makes her proper solo debut with Crush Songs, a collection of lo-fi bedroom recordings that she recorded between 2006-2007 during a period of intense crushing. These forlorn, tissue-paper-delicate tunes capture the bliss and bummer of getting crushes like it’s breathing.
Banks — Goddess (September 9, Harvest)
At the beginning of 2014, 26-year-old R&B-pop singer Jillian Banks — better known by just her surname — was deemed an “artist to watch” by almost every major music publication, thanks to her 2013 LONDON EP. After teasing nearly half the sad, smooth, sparse, and sleek songs on Goddess throughout this year, she’s finally releasing her proper debut. For a newbie who already seems too big to fail into nonexistence, the LP’s less of a stepping-out moment as it is a return on investments.
Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams (September 9, PAX AM/Blue Note)
Ryan Adams, reformed madman of the album release schedule, hasn’t released an album since 2011’s Ashes & Fire. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t made more albums that that since then: what we’re getting is Adams’ second try at the LP, following a Glyn Johns-produced album with orchestral flourishes. Instead, Adams keeps it simple with a self-titled country-rock album that seems to nod to Dylan and Petty in equal amounts.
Interpol — El Pintor (September 9, Matador)
Interpol have not exactly succeeded in sustaining interest once they outgrew New York’s Lower East Side, but this fall’s El Pintor at least attempts a rebirth. Like the city that spawned them, Interpol have cleaned up their act, becoming a trio following the departure of bassist Carlos D. Without his funky basslines, the album is all sharp-angled guitars and Paul Banks absurdity. Perhaps that’s your thing. (Stream it early via NPR.)
Tweedy — Sukierae (September 16, dBpm)
Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy recruited his 18-year-old son Spencer to help him with a new solo-ish project. It’s nothing radically different from what you’d expect from Wilco’s primary songwriter, but Tweedy’s chilled-out folk-rock also surprises with selective moments of dramatic arrangements: stunning backing vocals from the women of Lucius, a discordant piano peeking up, flashes of brass. Dad’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve.
alt-J — This Is All Yours (September 22, Atlantic)
alt-J aren’t easy to sum up, but that, I think, is at the core of their wide appeal. Sometimes they’re a funky folk-pop band, other times they’re sampling Miley Cyrus amidst cryptic electronics and trumpets, elsewhere they’re writing art-rock anthems. There’s an English obtuseness that pulls it all together, and never has it sounded bigger and brighter than it does on second album This Is All Yours.
Perfume Genius — Too Bright (September 23 via Matador)
Mike Hadreas is no longer hiding. The singer-songwriter known as Perfume Genius mostly abandons the stripped-down song structures in which he previously housed his intense lyrics, now favoring industrial pop that matches the drama. On his third album, Too Bright, Hadreas explores his sexuality, familial relations, and society at large in cunning ways that feel political and important — but still deeply personal.
SBTRKT — Wonder Where We Land (September 23, Young Turks/XL)
If you’re just catching up with Aaron Jerome, the dubstep and house producer who moves in mysterious ways under the moniker SBTRKT, you won’t be disappointed with Wonder Where We Land as a first taste. Jerome’s second LP continues his hot tastemaking streak as club trend translator of London’s new sound, with frequent vocal muse Sampha appearing on four tracks, as well as Jessie Ware (and a slew of non-Brits like Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Warpaint’s Emily Kokal, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, and A$AP Ferg).
Aphex Twin — SYRO (September 23, Warp)
You’re either stupid excited about this album, or deeply confused. SYRO has been in the works for a long time, and Aphex Twin (i.e. Richard D. James) hasn’t released a proper album since 2001’s Drukqs, despite having created and previewed a bit of new material live over the years. The influential IDM figure and his label, Warp, have teased the album in some intriguing ways, starting with a blimp over London and ending with this unreal press release. No one’s quite sure what to expect, except that it will likely be worth the wait. (Preview some SYRO tracks that James has played live over the years.)
Leonard Cohen — Popular Problems (September 23, Columbia)
Cohen recently announced that he’d be releasing his 13th album, Popular Problems, in celebration of his 80th birthday. With that kind of history, you more than likely know by now if you get something out of the enigmatic folk poet’s philosophical musings.
Christopher Owens — A New Testament (September 30, Turnstile)
With his former band Girls, Christopher Owens made one of the best indie rock records of the decade so far (2011’s Father, Son, Holy Ghost), in part because he knew no boundaries: gospel choirs met the Beach Boys met grungy fuzz. Owens’ post-Girls output, like 2013’s Lysandre, has seen him edging more exclusively towards folk and country-rock. But there’s hope yet for the limitless vision that made Owens so special: on A New Testament, Owens pulls inspiration from the fundamentals of American music — gospel, country, R&B — with some help from his former Girls bandmates.
Prince — Art Official Age and PLECTRUMELECTRUM (September 30, NPG/Warner Bros.)
Pop’s most influential weirdo has been playing the long game when it comes to teasing PLECTRUMELECTRUM, an album made with the help of his new all-female backing band, 3rd Eye Girl. By now, most have heard a bit of that outrageous record, including the hilariously smooth “Breakfast Can Wait” and the powerful “PretzelBodyLogic.” But just a few months ago came the news that he’d recorded a second new album, Art Official Age, on his own, to be released on the same date as PLECTRUMELECTRUM. Art Official Age is more of the “classic Prince” take on soul, funk and R&B — more of a proper solo album, though it does feature a nasty rap duet with Rita Ora, according to one reporter’s early listen. There’s also a song inspired by the #ThisCouldBeUsButYouPlayin meme.
Flying Lotus — You’re Dead! (October 7, Warp)
Steven Ellison — the producer, DJ, musician, and rapper better known as Flying Lotus or FlyLo — said he wanted his fifth LP to be a jazz record that would fuck up Miles Davis. The brilliant You’re Dead! is so much more than that. What few verses the album has are led by marquee rap brands, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar, and seem to focus on death. What’s happening musically is perhaps even more fascinating: Herbie Hancock drops by, futurism finds a way in, and hallucination-inducing electro-jazz-funk-hip-hop is born (or at least perfected).
Weezer — Everything Will Be Alright In The End (October 7, Republic)
Weezer diehards have been waiting, damnit, for an album to be proud of, and Everything Will Be Alright In The End might be just that. As I explained months back, the evidence is there: a first single (“Back to the Shack”) that nods to Weezer’s heyday (more in a meta lyrical way than musically), a reunion with Blue and Green album producer (and Cars frontman) Ric Ocasek… and time. Instead of churning out another album quickly (they released the previous three in just three years), the longtime LA rockers took their time. I haven’t heard it yet, but NPR’s Robin Hilton suggested it may be his favorite album of the year.
Stevie Nicks — 24 Karat Gold (October 7, Warner Bros.)
Music’s resident good witch Stevie Nicks has seen a few good years in recent times, from the release of her excellent 2011 album In Your Dreams to Fleetwood Mac’s big tour (including Christine McVie). So it’s interesting to see Nicks looking back amidst all this, via new album 24 Karat Gold — Songs from the Vault. The album is comprised of songs written mostly between 1969 and 1987 (so pre-Fleetwood Mac and throughout her solo golden age), with a couple more from the early ’90s. The recordings, however, are new: Nicks went to Nashville with trusted producer Dave Stewart and romped through her past in song with session pros. “Lindsey [Buckingham] will love it,” she told Rolling Stone. “Half the songs are about him!”
Zola Jesus — Taiga (October 7, Mute)
Zola Jesus, aka singer-songwriter-producer Nika Roza Danilova, has made some major stylistic changes with her fourth record. Taiga, a Russian term reserved for a type of forest, became something of a mantra for Danilova’s intense ambitions, the driving lyrical force of the album. Her underground sensibilities serve her well as she moves from goth-tinged art-pop to more mainstream electropop, the result being an alternate universe where Top 40 and Pitchfork overlap much more significantly.
Foxygen: …And Star Power (October 14, Jagjaguwar)
When it comes to describing the third Foxygen album, a double LP with four ‘suites,’ I’m gonna let the California psych-pop revivalists do the talking: “Foxygen have joined Star Power. It is a punk band, and you can be in it, too. Star Power is the radio station that you can hear only if you believe. A gaggle of guest stars. Roman-numeraled musical suites. Vocals recorded on a shoddy tape machine at The Beverly Hills Hotel and Chateau Marmont. A svelte 82-minute run time of psych-ward folk, cartoon fantasia, soft-rock indulgences, D&D doomrock and paranoid bathroom rompers. A cinematic auditory adventure for speedy freaks, skull krunchers, abductees and misfits. We’re all stars of the scene.”
Jessie Ware — Tough Love (October 21, PMR/Island)
British pop-soul sensation Jessie Ware put in time and effort to break her 2012 debut, Devotion, stateside. She returns this fall with her eye on the prize, aiming big and weird with a wide-varying take on her ethereal downbeats. Ed Sheeran, Miguel, Benny Blanco, and more provide the mainstream pop edge, but there’s still a bit of the quiet storm and U.K. Garage stuff that made Devotion stand out among discerning listeners.
Charli XCX — Sucker (October 21, Neon Gold/Atlantic)
Those unfamiliar with Charli XCX’s 2013 debut True Romance should best acquaint themselves before the British pop singer-songwriter blows up big. She’s on the brink as it stands, thanks to her pair of summer chart hits (“Fancy” with Iggy Azalea and “Boom-Clap”), and Sucker is bound to surprise while Charli over the edge. She went to Sweden to get angry and make a punk record, sought songwriting assistance from Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, dialed back from her early angry vision of the LP, and ended up with a raw, raucous album for the mainstream pop crowd.
Taylor Swift — 1989 (October 27 via Big Machine)
Look, we all have our polarizing opinions on Taylor Swift, but now years after she first became a pop star to the public, Swift is finally embracing that status. As she explained in her Oprah-esque album announcement special a few weeks back, 1989 is her celebration of late-eighties Top 40 and “her first documented pop album.” Bye-bye country, hello Paula Abdul? However overly self-aware it is, 1989 is bound to be an interesting look at Swift’s interpretation of musical trends from her birth year.