For music fans, the week separating Christmas and New Year’s Day typically serves as a welcome break from the rest of the year’s torrent of new releases. If you want to go through and spend time with albums you missed or shortchanged earlier in the year, that’s your prerogative; if you want to hunker down with whatever you consider classics, you can do that too. I like to spend this week looking forward into the new year. What am I going to hear in January and February? Who’s going to follow up on the promise of a solid lead single? Who’s preparing a surprise or two?
In that spirit, I’ve put together a list of 10 anticipated albums with confirmed release dates coming out in January and February. Think of it as a sort of musical cheat sheet, one that covers the first two months of the year. We’re leaving a fantastic musical year behind. If these albums live up to their potential, they’ll ensure 2016’s start is similarly strong.
David Bowie, Blackstar (January 8th)
David Bowie is releasing Blackstar on his 69th birthday, and its early singles suggest it could be one of the venerable shapeshifter’s most challenging albums. (It’s his 25th LP.) It’s hard to talk about influence when it comes to Bowie because he’s blazed such a wild trail across popular music. Take "Blackstar," for instance: it sounds a bit like Radiohead’s Kid A, an album unimaginable without Bowie’s work on the Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno. I’m just glad he’s still making vital, interesting music almost half a century (!) into his career.
Eleanor Friedberger, New View (January 22nd)
Every Eleanor Friedberger song feels like an exquisite short story, and spending time with her LPs is just as rewarding as flipping through a dog-eared Alice Munro collection. New View is her first album divorced from her frenetic former home in Brooklyn: the album was recorded live to tape in upstate New York, and you can hear it in the album’s loose ramble.
Savages, Adore Life (January 22nd)
When Savages burst out of the London underground with 2013 debut Silence Yourself, the band’s serrated post-punk knocked plenty of unsuspecting listeners on their butts. Ayse Hassan’s bass thudded at the back of your brain like a migraine; lead singer Jehnny Beth wrote and sang with vigor and ideological purity. Adore Life isn’t going to sound as bleak as Silence Yourself — it’s a collection of love songs, of sorts — but songs like "The Answer" and "T.I.W.Y.G." ring with the same righteous fury.
Tortoise, The Catastrophist (January 22nd)
Chicago post-rock veterans Tortoise are releasing their first LP in seven years with The Catastrophist, the long-awaited follow-up to 2009’s Beacons of Ancestorship. The latter album was hard-charging and stylistically broad; new single "Gesceap" starts out placid and cool before building to a frenzied, overwhelming finish. This is a band that knows how to make the complex look easy.
Sia, This Is Acting (January 29th)
When she’s not scoring hit singles like "Chandelier" for herself, Sia is one of pop’s most respected hired guns, having written hits for everyone from Rihanna to Beyoncé. She claims new album This Is Acting is entirely made up of songs originally written for other people, and you can play a fun game with its singles if you don’t Google too much beforehand: who’s supposed to be singing this? (I mentioned the recipient of "Cheap Thrills" above.) Enjoy the peek into the process of one of pop’s backroom forces.
DIIV, Is the Is Are (February 5th)
Zachary Cole Smith’s DIIV released one album of sterling guitar pop before being sidetracked by drugs and a series of associated controversies. Is the Is Are is the band’s attempt to recapture the potential flashed on 2012’s Oshin, and the early returns are promising. Singles like "Dopamine" and "Under the Sun" are catchy, chiming, and dark enough to invite deeper exploration.
Junior Boys, Big Black Coat (February 5th)
Perennially underrated Canadian duo Junior Boys haven’t released a new album since 2011’s silky It’s All True. Singer / producer Jeremy Greenspan spent the last half-decade working with artists like Caribou and Jessy Lanza. Big Black Coat is marked by a renewed playfulness and sense of focus, the kind you can hear in the pitch-shifted emoting of single "Over It."
Animal Collective, Painting With (February 19th)
For a moment in the late ‘00s, Animal Collective’s influence on the sound of alternative music was unparalleled. They were making music with more joy, inventiveness, and spirit than any of their peers. That influence has since waned — you can point to 2012’s lukewarm Centipede Hz if you need something to blame — and the band’s settling into a new phase of its career, one starting with new LP Painting With. Single "FloriDada" is catchy and whimsical, but it’s not blazing any new trails. Is this the start of Animal Collective’s comfortable period?
Wild Nothing, Life of Pause (February 19th)
The indie rock Jack Tatum makes as Wild Nothing skews romantic and fuzzy, like love songs you’re trying to remember from a dream. After a period of wild productivity that stretched from 2010 to 2013, Tatum laid dormant for a while: Life of Pause is his first collection of new music in three years. He told Pitchfork the new album is influenced by Philly soul and artists like Todd Rundgren, a set of influences that’s appealing at a glance. I’m looking forward to figuring out their impact on his music.
The 1975, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (February 26th)
Have you ever found yourself wondering what a Carly Rae Jepsen / Fall Out Boy collaboration would sound like? Are you susceptible to the charms of mischievous, rowdy British boys? Does the phrase "Scritti Politti" mean anything to you? If you answered "yes" to any of the questions above, you need to spend more time listening to The 1975. I Like It When You Sleep… is the follow-up to the band’s eponymous 2013 debut, a huge smash in the UK and a buried treasure for American listeners. If there’s a band with a better handle on love-drunk, hyper-sticky pop-rock right now, they’re news to me.