It’s already a good year for new music, with The Weeknd and Elvis Costello, and Mitski, Shamir, Spoon and Soul-Glo
The weeks after the holidays are usually the slowest of the year for new music, but this January got off to a quick start.
This has been true for both big-name artists like The Weeknd and Elvis Costello who have already released full albums this month, as well as a wide range of artists who have released new songs teasing projects and upcoming tours.
Although the live music industry is once again facing COVID-19 uncertainty due to the omicron variant, with many tours being postponed, others, like Kacey Musgraves, who plays Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday and The War on Drugs, which are at the Met Philly on Thursday and Friday, continue.
So it’s time to dig into new music while looking ahead in hopes that the current COVID surge will soon peak and subside, and fans can return to relatively anxiety-free community listening. Here’s a bunch of new sounds to get you through those cold winter weeks.
Elvis Costello and the Imposters, The boy named Si. Every time an artist with such a significant body of work — this is the British singer-songwriter’s 32nd album — releases such good new music, the temptation is to call it his best album since… when? 1978 This year’s model? 1986 Blood & Chocolate?
Instead, let’s just say that Costello has been on a creative streak lately, starting in 2018 with look now and continues in 2020 with Hi clock face, and that The Boy Named So is clearly the best of the bunch.
The Boy Named So is a 13-track collection of thematically related songs that hit hard from Pete Thomas’ first drum hit on “Farewell, OK.” The full title of the album is A Boy Named Si (and Other Children’s Tales), and Costello explained in the album notes that “If” is the nickname a child gives to an imaginary friend, “your secret self… the one you blame for the broken dishes and the hearts you break, even your own.”
Never be afraid, however. You don’t have to follow the story to appreciate the songs, which are uniformly strong, as is Costello’s vocals, about the self-doubt “What If I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” and the particularly captivating “Paint the Red Rose Bleu.
The weekend, Dawn FM. Last winter, when The Weeknd announced their After Hours tour, which was to play at Wells Fargo Center next April, the ride named after the Canadian singer’s 2020 album was meant to be a pop celebration of the post-tour. COVID.
In the fall, the Canadian singer, born Abel Tesfaye, canceled those dates and announced that they would be rescheduled as (as yet unannounced) stadium shows. The Weeknd’s rise to world conquest starboy (to quote the title of his 2016 album) was so complete, it seemed, that only stadiums would do. But the fact that the shows weren’t scheduled seemed a depressing reminder that the pandemic wasn’t going away.
The surprise release of Dawn FM this month, put it all into perspective. As it turns out, it made no sense for The Weeknd to go on tour for a 2020 project while sitting on a new album which is the most impressive of his career.
Dawn FM is fascinating in so many ways, starting with the album cover, a digitally aged photo of the 31-year-old singer with a salt-and-pepper beard.
The album features a spoken interlude by Quincy Jones, recalling that his mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was taken to a psychiatric hospital when Jones was 8 years old. The presence of the super producer underlines a connection between Tesfaye and Michael Jackson.
And with ubiquitous collaborators like Calvin Harris and Max Martin, the “Here We Go…Again” album, which features creator Tyler, is co-written with 79-year-old Beach Boys member Bruce Johnston.
Dawn FM, which has topped the Billboard album chart since its release, is also a concept album. It’s structured like a long listen to a mythical R&B radio station (hosted by Jim Carrey, who provides intermittent voice-overs), with the singer-driver stuck in traffic on his way to his presumed death.
But as The Boy Named If, Dawn FM carries his story freely. The album functions as a collection of melodic, self-contained songs that hark back to 1970s disco and 1980s R&B, shot through with just the right measure of 2020s paranoia.
Along with Costello and The Weeknd, the new year also saw the release of a handful of other worthy efforts.
Chan Marshall, the sultry-voiced singer who records as Cat Power, has released Blankets, featuring performances by Frank Ocean, Iggy Pop, the Pogues and Jackson Browne. His January date at the TLA has been rescheduled for April 17.
Rapper Odd Future Earl Sweatshirt posted Sick! a 24-minute mini-album that is a return to form, expertly internalizing pandemic anxieties. And that of John Mellencamp Strictly a one-eyed Jack is the Indiana rocker’s first album in five years. It stands out for its solid selection of spare, unsentimental, mortality-leaning songs, three of which feature Bruce Springsteen, the dashing standout being “Did You Say Such a Thing.”
Here is an overview of the highly anticipated projects in the coming weeks:
Mitsky, Laurel Hell. Indie-rock singer Mitski Miyawaki’s sixth album follows her acclaimed 2018 album be the cowboy. Mitski has released four songs from the album so far, all of which draw their strength from his signature blend of emotional tension and tactical reserve. The latest is “Love Me More,” which she says was influenced by listening to Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” in the 1973 horror film. The Exorcist. Laurel Hell comes out February 4 and Mitski performs at Franklin Music Hall on March 25.
Chamir, heterosexuality. The Philadelphia indie artist’s new album is billed as “the first to explicitly confront his homosexuality.” The songwriter’s pop skills are clearly apparent on his new single, “Reproductive,” which follows previously released songs “Cisgender” and “Gay Agenda.” Shamir opens for Courtney Barnett on February 4 at the Met Philly and heterosexuality will be released on February 11 on his AntiFragile label.
The Delines, Marine drift. Fans of literary-grade, short-story-like songwriting and divinely understated soulful vocals can rejoice: a new Delines album is coming. The drift of the sea is the sequel to the superb 2019 Imperial. The Portland, Oregon band features the songwriting of novelist and former Richmond Fontaine frontman Willy Vlautin and the subtle vocals of Amy Boone. Release scheduled for February 11.
Spoon, Lucifer on the couch. Has there been a more cohesive and infallible group working in any genre over the past 20 years than Spoon? The Britt-Daniel-led quartet in Austin, Texas shared two generally budget-friendly and engaging new songs in “Wild” and “The Hardest Cut.” Lucifer on the couch comes out on February 11 and Spoon will play at the Fillmore Philly on April 15.
Robert Glasper, Black Radio III. Jazz-R&B-hip-hop pianist and composer Robert Glasper is about to release the third part of the trilogy that started with the 2011s. black radio, which won a Grammy for Best R&B the following year. For new single “Black Superhero,” Glasper has assembled an all-star cast to perform with The Roots on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallonincluding Rapsody, BJ the Chicago Kid, DJ Jazzy Jeff from Philly and poet Amir Sulaiman. Black Radio III releases February 25.
Soul Glo, Diaspora issues. West Philadelphia band Soul Glo have signed to famed Southern California punk label Epitaph Records. The “revolutionary hardcore” quartet of vocalist Pierce Jordan, guitarist Ruben Polo, bassist GG Guerra and drummer TJ Stevenson previewed the album with the raging “Jump!!” (Or get blown up!!) (By the future!!!)”. The album is released on March 25.
wet leg, wet leg. “Chaise Longue”, the debut single sung by duo Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers from England’s Isle of Wight, was a staple on year-end best-of lists and racked up millions of streams and a lot of radio reading. The band will perform Underground Arts on March 12 and their self-titled debut album will be released on April 8.