It's only half way through January and 2014's already shaping up to be an exceptional year for music. You can read interviews with tons of artists readying releases in this week's NME and browse through 100 highlights here and here. Thought it's hard to pick one I'm mighty excited to hear what tUnE-yArDs does next. Merrill Garbus' last album 'Whokill' was musically exhilarating and typically idiosyncratic, a cacophony of loops, afrobeats, nuts jazz and R&B. It was sharpened by a lyrical exploration of the nature of violence. Word on the street is that her third record will be completely different to anything she's done before. In a piece for The Talkhouse she wrote about spending time in Haiti and how exploring a non-Western tradition is inspiring the new album. With a working title of 'Sink-O, Garbus wrote: "It came from my obsession with the word "syncopation," which is a miserable sink-o of a word. Syncopation derives its definition from what it is not: rhythmically speaking, it's not what you "expect" to happen; it's a "deviation" from the 'norm.'" Here's nine more albums picked out by NME writers.
Sharon Van Etten - Are We There?
When I spoke to Sharon Van Etten about her forthcoming fourth album for this week's NME, she said that she was paring down the guest turns on 'Are We There?' just to make sure her last record, 'Tramp', had succeeded due to the strength of her songwriting rather than the presence of The National's Dessner brothers and Beirut's Zach Condon. Having been a fan of everything she's done, from her early bedroom recordings onward, I have no doubt at all in Sharon's skill for writing steely, moving songs – and I'm very curious about the apparent R&B influence of Sade and Glass Candy…
Future Islands – Singles
Future Islands are one of those bands who've toiled hard but have never seen the rewards. The Baltimore trio's two most recent records, 2011's 'On The Water and 2010's 'In Evening Air' reached a criminally small audience - nonetheless they continued to play hundreds of gigs every year. But now, having actually taken a breather, and with the support of a new label (4AD – home to The National and Grimes) they could be in for the break they deserve. Their secret weapon is front man Sam Herring - a man with the gruff vocal of Tom Waits but the fragile storytelling of Nick Drake. He's a beautiful beast. Hopefully 'Singles' will take the standard set by tracks like 2010's 'Tin Man' (below) and stretch it across a whole album.
New Jersey beatmaker Mike Volpe doesn’t just push boundaries – he charges through them at 80mph, not even bothering to check the rear view mirror for the debris left behind. Pioneer of the claustrophobic, codeine-twisted ‘cloud rap’ sound, his futuristic productions under the alias Clams Casino have made superstars of the likes of A$AP Rocky and Lil’ B, also assisting The Weeknd on his meteoric rise. 2014 should see him release his debut album proper, having dropped the third and final of his fiercely innovative ‘Instrumentals’ mixtapes late last year. Not many acts can claim to have helped spark an entire new musical movement before their first official release – which is why I can’t wait to see where Volpe ventures next.
I’ve not fallen so head-over-heels for a new band like I have with Eagulls since… well, since Savages at the tail-end of 2012, probably. They’re chalk-and-cheese, of course – Eagulls are brash, itchy and irritable, Savages stern and austere – but there’s a slither of similarity there, too: like Savages, Eagulls are uncompromising and unfuckwithable, and their self-titled debut is all about thumbing noses at the humdrum and the mundane, too. ‘Tough Luck’ and ‘Nerve Endings’ were two of the best songs I heard last year – all sneering fury and catchy-as-fuck riffs – and, having heard the rest of the album already, the rest of their songs are just as good, too. Here’s hoping everyone else agrees when it’s released this spring.
Damon Albarn's solo album
I've got no idea what to expect from it, but Damon's such an exciting, innovative musician that you have to hold out hope for his solo album being one of 2014's standouts. While the retro-ist in me would gladly accept 40 minutes of folksy, indie ballads like the below, I'm expecting something more invasive, leftfield and forward-thinking. This too is no bad thing. It's always exciting when a frontman steps away from the band, but when it's someone like Damon it's ten times more interesting.
There's a reason Wolf Alice are nominated for Best New Band at this year's NME Awards – namely they're one of the most thrilling, sickeningly talented bands breaking through right now. If you've seen them live over the last few months, chances are you'll have heard some songs that could make it onto their debut album. 'Lighters' is a bona fide smash hit in waiting, 'You're A Germ' is hands down one of the best, teeth-baringly vicious tracks they've written so far and 'Your Love's Whore' is a masterclass in how swirling psych-addled indie should be done. If they make the album, it'll be a record that more than justifies every column inch of praise they've received so far. If they don't, they'll have been usurped by songs that are even better – a thought so absurdly exciting it feels almost dangerous to ruminate on it too much.
It's been a long five years since HudMo released his last album 'Butter' in 2009. Sure, there was the 'Satin Panthers' EP as well as TNGHT's brief period of festival slaying antics but now I'm ready to see what the Scottish producer has up his sleeve for a full length effort. Speaking to NME this week he assures us he "only sleeps for about three hours a night" as he works on the "more song based new record." With 2013 being all about his work with Kanye, Drake and Pusha T I'm ready to see 2014 be the year Hudson Mohawke raises his profile even further.
In 2012, Grime’s third record ‘Visions’ propelled her into a much wider pop culture context, and positioned Claire Boucher as an authoritative, fearless and charmingly honest voice for young female artists. It would have been easy to marvel at the Canadian’s multimedia creations of beguiling electronica and fantastical visuals with a sense that she was otherwordly, ‘cute’ and nonsensical. In fact, what she’d prove over the coming months via her blog and incredible artistic output was that she was one of the shrewdest, most versatile artists of a new generation. Where she’ll go next is anyone’s guess. You get the impression Boucher is entirely capable of writing a 45-minute record, jam-packed full or pop greats – but that’s almost too easy, right?
'Milkshake' is my dancefloor anthem and 'Bossy' is my go-to karaoke track so I guess you could say I'm a tiny bit excited about Kelis' sixth album 'Food'. Especially since the singer's ditched an LP's worth of electronic music in favor of vintage-inspired soul-spangled uplifting deliciousness. She told NME the record is about "nourishment, feeding your body and replenishing and recharging with all the things we live on". It's out on April 28.