I’m overwhelmed just staring down March. As a music listener, you should be too. There’s no shortage of records out this month, from indie rockers you may have loved a decade ago (Sufjan Stevens, of Montreal, Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie) to future favorites (Courtney Barnett, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, Tobias Jesso Jr.) to Madonna, who always sits in a category of her own. Let’s get into it.
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper — After (March 3, Mom + Pop)
On her Mom + Pop debut, Aly Spaltro — the prolific Maine-bred singer-songwriter behind Lady Lamb the Beekeeper — has progressed nicely from bedroom folk to polished guitar feedback without losing her experimental bent and her filterless lyrics. After is an eclectic mix of classic era indie rock, ’60s pop, and a touch of poppy folk that recalls Feist in places. It’s one of my favorites of 2015 so far.
Of Montreal — Aureate Gloom (March 3, Polyvinyl)
With Aureate Gloom, Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes manages to surpass the “literate ’70s punk rock” he sought as inspiration, creating achingly personal freak-outs (“Last Rites at the Jane Hotel”) next to uncharacteristically political satire (“Bassam Sabry”). For nearly a decade (since 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?) Barnes has been funking up the indie world, but with this, his 13th album, he’s aiming squarely to fuck it up. (Listen to Aureate Gloom now via NPR First Listen.) — Shane Barnes
Purity Ring — another eternity (March 3, 4AD)
Edmonton duo Purity Ring found themselves ahead of the curve on Shrines, one of 2011’s most quietly infectious albums. The mainstream caught up with their self-declared “future pop,” so much so that Drake spitting atop a beat off Purity Ring’s sophomore album wouldn’t seem out of place. Instead of moving further to the left, Purity Ring’s Megan James and Corin Roddick go more pop than ever here. Like most Top 40, the repetitive lyrics won’t make you see the world in a different way or anything, but I doubt that’s why people listen to Purity Ring anyway. It’s a vibe, an aesthetic — and by those standards, another eternity is addictively moody. (Listen to another eternity now via NPR First Listen.)
Madonna — Rebel Heart (March 10, Interscope)
After a devastating leak of Rebel Heart demos late last year, Madonna acted swiftly and released nearly half of the record as singles. Three more songs have come out since the new year, leaving just the last five songs on Rebel Heart for next week’s release. The songs of Rebel Heart vary in sound, theme, and quality, but it’s through these Diplo and Avicii-produced tracks that Madonna moves beyond trend-chasing in dance pop. She gets real about love and fame, once more.
Will Butler — Policy (March 10, Merge)
In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Will Butler described the current omnivorous state of music-listening in a way that stuck with me: “People are listening to Steve Reich and Ghostface and 1940s Trinidadian music all the time.” His debut solo album, Policy, functions under this assumption but narrows down the playing field just a little: distinctly American music. One song’s rockabilly, the next New Wave; later on, a harmony-driven Brian Wilson piano ballad, then the Violent Femmes’ punk energy updated for the 21st century. The most memorable thing about Policy, however, is its ability to pair feel-good rock with lyrics about religion, capitalistic critique, and all sorts of weightier ideas.
Heems — Eat Pray Thug (March 10, Megaforce)
Last summer, while his debut solo album was in label purgatory, Heems tweeted, “I don’t make radio hits. Who the fuck you think you signed? I make post-9/11 dystopian brown man rap. Not very radio friendly.” Eat Pray Thug finally gets released this month, and while the former Das Racist member may not make songs that scream mass appeal, his perspective is worth being heard widely. Eat Pray Thug explores what it means to be of Middle Eastern descent in the overly gentrified Brooklyn of 2015. Heems tempers his message-heavy frustrations with punchlines, commentary on rap itself, and a fascination with old-school New York hip-hop. (Listen to Eat Pray Thug now via NPR First Listen.)
Tobias Jesso Jr. — Goon (March 17, True Panther Sounds)
Tobias Jesso Jr. is the other Canadian goofball who writes romantic songs that recall Harry Nilsson. What sets him apart from someone like Mac DeMarco is that Jesso never breaks the act. This, his debut LP, is 100 percent sincere, even when Jesso’s fictionalization (like “Just a Dream,” where he sings of being a newborn parent… which he isn’t). The other thing that sets Jesso apart: he’s probably more influenced by Brian Wilson, early Randy Newman, and solo John Lennon songs than Nilsson. If that’s your bag, then Goon is a mostly solid listen with more swoon-worthy hits than dull misses.
Modest Mouse — Strangers to Ourselves (March 17, Epic)
It’s hard to believe that Modest Mouse’s new LP is just two albums removed from the band’s mainstream breakthrough, 2004’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News. Indie rock has seen fundamental changes in the last decade, but by the sound of the songs released from Strangers to Ourselves so far, Isaac Brock and co. have stayed mostly the same, albeit more polite and produced than those early MM records. With how infrequently Modest Mouse releases albums, and with how long this one’s been in the works, indie rock fans should be curious to hear it.
Courtney Barnett — Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (March 24, Mom + Pop)
For her debut LP, Courtney Barnett — one of the most promising new artists of the last few years — moves beyond what warranted the hype surrounding her duo of EPs, last year’s A Sea of Split Peas. Up until this point, Barnett’s strengths would have centered primarily on her lyrical acumen, with jangly guitar hooks playing second fiddle. Now the music sounds as noisy and ambitious as the lyrics sound quick and witty.
Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell (March 31, Asthmatic Kitty)
For his new album, Sufjan Stevens shoves the drum machine in the closet and returns to the earnest folk songs that made him famous. The songs of Carrie & Lowell, however, are bare; there’s no orchestral flourish to Sufjan’s sweet voice, acoustic guitar, and piano. This treatment allows his words to shine through in all their pain and beauty, which the subject matter demands, as Stevens wrote the album in the wake of his estranged mother’s death in December 2012. His relationship with her was complicated, and it shows in the lyrics, which are stunningly heartbreaking at every juncture.
Also out this month:
Tom Brosseau — Perfect Abandon (March 3, Crossbill Records/ Tin Angel Records)
Traditional folk storytelling at its finest.
Glen Hansard — It Was Triumph We Once Proposed… Songs of Jason Molina (March 17, Overcoat Recordings)
The Swell Season singer pays tribute to gone-but-not-forgotten Songs: Ohia leader with this touching tribute EP.
Twin Shadow — Eclipse (March 17, Warner Bros.)
The third album from chillwave maestro George Lewis Jr. takes on a weightier tone.
Action Bronson — Mr. Wonderful (March 24, Atlantic/Vice)
Stoner-rap goofball Action Bronson releases his second album, featuring assists from Mark Ronson, Chance the Rapper, and Drake righthand, Noah “40” Shebib.
Death Cab For Cutie — Kintsugi (March 31, Atlantic)
Few would have expected Death Cab to get dancey now that their resident production nerd, Chris Walla, is out of the band, but that’s part of the story here, along with Adult Contemporary rock.