2015 looks to be a stellar year for new music releases. What follows are ten releases we feel deserve special mention (and five others we couldn’t shake). Legendary personalities, hip-hop game-changers, pop visionaries, and ambitious experimentalists all figure in to the mix. Note: Release dates and other specific details are subject to change.
PJ Harvey – TBA
From visceral and noisy to meditative and delicate, beautifully introverted one moment, politically venomous the next, PJ Harvey’s music spans the entire singer-songwriter spectrum. For the follow-up to 2011’s acclaimed Let England Shake, Harvey is going to let her audience watch the album take shape. In a joint venture with London-based arts organization Artangel, Harvey will participate in a living art exhibit entitled “Recording in Progress,” a four-week event that will see the artist record her next album live in view of the public. “I want [it] to operate as if we’re an exhibition in a gallery. I hope visitors will be able to experience the flow and energy of the recording process,” Harvey explained.
The studio is located in a wing of London’s Somerset House and enclosed behind two-way glass so the musicians, producers, and engineers are unable to see the onlookers. The exhibit, which Artangel calls a “mutating, multidimensional sound sculpture,” started Friday and runs through February 14. Get your tickets for a 45-minute viewing at somersethouse.org.uk.
Tame Impala – TBA
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been more than two years since Tame Impala’s sophomore surge, Lonerism. Less heavy but more driving than its predecessor, Lonerism hinted at a subtle shift in frontman Kevin Parker’s songwriting — his inclination for sprawling, wall-of-reverb excess gave way to a more synthy, less texture-driven sound. It seems the group’s next record will continue that trend: “[It’s] gonna be less rock again and more electronic, even more than the last one,” percussionist Jay Watson revealed late last year.
While details remain scarce, a leaked email from the band’s management company (Spinning Top Music) confirmed a new Tame Impala record will drop sometime this year: “2015 is going to be one helluva year. And I know this because I’m privy to some information about some amazing things happening…new albums from POND [and] Tame Impala.”
As the brightest star in the neo-psych landscape, Tame Impala have only gotten better (and bolder) over time, expanding on their lush, swirling aesthetic with each new release. There’s no reason to expect that the next installment will be any different.
Björk – Vulnicura (March)Today
For those of us who think Björk’s been in steady decline since 2004’s Medulla, there’s hope on the horizon. Hinting at an electronically dominated and overall darker direction, the details of Björk’s ninth studio album are sure to pique the interests of otherwise disenchanted listeners. While some of the revelations are typical Björkian stuff — track titles include abstract names like “Stonemilker,” “Lionsong,” “History of Touches,” “Notget,” “Atom Dance,” and “Mouth Mantra” — the production and writing credits are refreshingly unexpected.
Enlisting the aid of two of the world’s best experimental producers, Björk is showing a renewed interest in musical, as opposed to strictly conceptual, experimentation. Arca, the avant-gardist who produced segments of Yeezus and FKA twigs’ LP1, is on board, as is London’s the Haxan Cloak. By embracing the stranger edges of contemporary electronic music, Björk looks set to recapture her form.
UPDATE/SURPRISE! Pitchfork reports that Vulnicura will be made available via iTunes worldwide “over the course of the next 24 hours.” As of 4 p.m. EST, it was available in the U.K., though not the U.S. iTunes store. As for the physical release, it looks like you’ll still have to wait until March.
Death Grips – jenny death / The Powers That B
Riding on a philosophy of technological oppression and Iggy Pop–level madman physicality, Death Grips are the sound of future shock incarnate, what band founder Flatlander called “masochism by information.” A blaring deluge of digital excess, glitch electronics, and corrosive low end, the group’s sound is as culturally and socially relevant as any act of the last ten years. That’s why it was so disheartening when, shortly after leaking the first disc (Niggas on the Moon) of their upcoming double LP The Powers That B, Death Grips announced their disbandment. Still, for an officially defunct act, Death Grips have stayed remarkably relevant.
A few weeks back, presumably as a teaser to the release of the second portion of Powers That B, jenny death, the group released a free-to-download instrumental album entitled Fashion Week. Yes, while breaking up, the band has managed to record three separate albums. If The Powers That B is really Death Grips’ swan song, it represents the final chapter in one of the most controversial, critically discussed, and original bands to emerge in recent memory.
Holly Herndon – TBA (fall)
A doctoral candidate in composition at Stanford, Holly Herndon is one of the most important electronic composers in contemporary music. Not dissimilar to artists like Oneohtrix Point Never, Katie Gately, and Laurel Halo, Herndon draws inspiration from sources as disparate as academic computer music, hip-hop, and techno and distills them into a sound all her own. Following her 2012 LP, Movement, 2014 saw the artist release a string of impressive singles (“Chorus,” “Solo Voice,” “Body Sound,” and “Home”).
Between undergrad papers, lectures, and an increasingly long docket of commissions, Herndon’s found time to work on her sophomore album, a composition — at least partially envisioned at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics — that aims to be less reserved than her first LP. “The last album was just me alone in my room, and for this one I’m incorporating other people in ways that have been really amazing,” Herndon explained.
A$AP Rocky – TBA
2014 was a quiet year for A$AP Rocky. Thankfully, what did slip through the silence augurs great things. Where reckless energy and a woozy, heavy-handed production defined Rocky’s breakout mixtape, Live. Love. A$AP, Rocky favored hook-laden, club-ready inflections on his 2013 studio debut, Long. Live. A$AP. Fans fearing further retreat into pop’s embrace can rest easy.
Judging by the sound of things, Rocky is turning back to the Southern-baked, drugged-down purity of his early music. As always, expect bristling high-art/low-art contrasts and heady, purple-slung beats, but also expect Rocky’s sophomore effort to be a cohesive and consistent reflection of the MC’s matured songwriting. If the words of known A$AP Rocky collaborator Joey Fatts are any indication — “[Rocky’s] got, like, 30 tracks done for his project” — fans shouldn’t have to wait much longer for this one.
Hannah Diamond – TBA
For many, 2014 will be remembered as the year of PC Music, the British label, producer collective, and aesthetic game-changer that reimagined the future of pop in the shape of a Barbie doll. Plasticized, surreal, and garishly saccharine, the art PC churns out is nothing if not strikingly unique. An eerily efficient commentary on consumerism, image, and sex, PC’s music is as conceptually ingenious as it is genuinely convictive; irony and tongue-in-cheek cynicism, it turns out, are the sharpest barbs in modern pop’s toolbox.
While the bulk of PC’s roster hides behind glossy panes of anonymity — pseudonyms, avatars, concert stand-ins — standout artist Hannah Diamond has shown no fear of the public eye. Diamond is arguably the Net label’s most accessible and recognized product, and, as such, she’s PC Music’s best shot at widespread exposure. Perhaps recognizing this, label boss A.G. Cook has made Diamond something of a flagship artist for the collective, recently making her latest single, “Every Night,” PC’s first purchasable song (previously, the label’s tracks existed only in streamable, free-to-download form).
Rumor has it Diamond is currently in the studio working on a proper album, which would represent PC Music’s first full-length statement and another titillating glimpse at pop’s increasingly strange future.
Earl Sweatshirt – TBA
It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Earl Sweatshirt hip-hop’s most technically gifted lyricist, or, for that matter, its most imaginative talent. Following years of hype — including a grassroots campaign demanding his return to songwriting — Sweatshirt finally delivered a studio debut in 2011 — the fantastic, if inconsistent, Doris. Showcasing Sweatshirt’s live-wire poetics and devastating wordplay, the album felt more like a harbinger of future success than a full-fledged coming-out party. If the recently shared “45” is indeed a sampling off a Doris follow-up, the MC might finally be ready to fulfill his hotly debated potential.
According to Sweatshirt, his sophomore record was completed some time ago:
Aphex Twin – Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt 2 (January 23)
When Richard D. James, best known as Aphex Twin, returned last year after thirteen years of relative silence, every music publication momentarily lost its shit, and deservedly so. James has spent his career reinventing modern electronic music. From ambient to techno, dance, and avant-garde, James’s discography is as consistently genre-defying as it is wildly unpredictable. In the tradition of artists like Brian Eno and John Cage, James’s compositions speak to a painterly approach to music-making, a sound-for-sound’s-sake attention to detail that renders idiosyncratic melodies and extraordinary density in equal measure. In virtue of this, each Aphex Twin release comes stamped with a tacit foreword: Expect the unexpected.
In recent interviews, James has spoken about incorporating electro-mechanical instruments (“Drum robots…MIDI pipe organs”) and mutation-inspired computer software into his music. But, really, there’s no telling what esoteric methods might end up on future releases.
While James’s excellent return release, Syro, was announced in showy, cryptic fashion — a blimp adorned with the Aphex Twin logo sailing over London is but one example — the artist went the understated route this time around, announcing the details of a new thirteen-track EP on Warp via Twitter. In contemporary music, where short-term memories and high turnover prevail, it’s comforting to know that a genuine auteur like James can still rock the industry hype-machine.
Kanye West – TBA
The White Whale of 2015’s most anticipated releases, as with nearly every year, is the forthcoming Kanye West record. And why shouldn’t it be? West has proven to be one of the rare artists capable of bridging the gap between fans and critics, a musician as critically adored as culturally validated. Here’s what we know so far: Rick Rubin and Q-Tip (of Tribe Called Quest fame) are both set to produce, and two singles have surfaced so far — the Jay-Z-influenced “All Day” and the slow-burning “Only One,” featuring Paul McCartney. As with every West effort, rumors abound. This time the chatter is in hyperdrive. Apart from several supposedly authentic tracklists, the rumors include a laughably lengthy list of guest appearances and collaborators (deep breath):
Lorde, 2 Chainz, James Blake, Bon Iver, Evian Christ, Common, Lana Del Rey, DJ Mustard, Eminem, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Migos, Pusha T, Q-Tip, Rihanna, Travis Scott, Ty Dolla $ign, Tyga, Young Chop, A$AP Rocky, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Earl Sweatshirt, Riff Raff, Freddie Gibbs, Ghostface Killah, RZA, Madlib, Nas, Tyler the Creator, El-P, Nicki Minaj, Björk, Kendrick Lamar, the Weeknd, and Drake, to name a few.
Clearly, at this point, skepticism is the proper response to all such “leaks,” but given that West has reportedly already shared the album with several people (including at a listening party in Paris), it’s safe to assume this one will drop sooner rather than later.
Additional releases to look for:
Pusha T – King Push
Future Brown – Future Brown
Bob Dylan – Shadows in the Night
Sky Ferreira – TBA
Grimes – TBA