Dig for Fire: 25 Upcoming Albums More People Should Be Talking About
From québécois kraut-funk to the return of two of indie rock's most celebrated sidemen, these are the unsung albums we're most excited for this year.
In case you hadn’t heard, 2016 was a great year for music. And with confirmed and rumored major releases on the way from SZA, St. Vincent, Vampire Weekend, and many more, the onslaught doesn’t seem likely to abate any time soon. But while we’re as excited as anyone else to hear how you follow up an album like Modern Vampires of the City, 2017’s undercard already promises to be just as compelling as its headliners. Here are the twenty-five records by lesser-hyped artists that we’re most excited to hear this year.
Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche
Pas pire pop (I Love You So Much)
The Montreal quartet Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche (translation: “With the sun coming out of his mouth”) are billed as a kraut-funk group, but like everything in the city of Two Solitudes, it ain’t exactly that simple. Leaving aside the fact that “kraut” and “funk” represent two utterly opposed relationships to rhythm, the group’s second album is comprised of a trio of multi-part compositions that flick between tick-tocking math-rock, Reichian pulses, violent tremors of noise, and high operatic wailing. And it’s great for dancing.
Kid Koala and Emilíana Torrini
Music To Draw To: Satellite
The music made by Eric San isn’t exactly known for its glacial pace, but suffering through a lifetime of Montreal winters is bound to make its mark. This long-gestating ambient collaboration with Icelandic singer Emilíana Torrini is an exploration of soundscapes built from the frozen ground up.
The Proper Ornaments
Three albums in, and Ultimate Painting is just getting better and better. So it stands to reason, then, that James Hoare’s other band, The Proper Ornaments, will follow a similarly upward trajectory. The Ornaments’ debut, 2015’s Wooden Head, set the stage nicely for this well-timed follow-up. Bring the (level-headed) noise.
Nothing Feels Natural
Somewhat incredibly, this is the first full-length release by DC post-punks Priests, who since their founding in 2011 have helped to coalesce a noisy, invigorating scene in the nation’s capitol—and that was before we really needed such a presence in Washington. The quartet spent two years refining the album, at one point scrapping everything they’d recorded, and enlisted Hugh McElroy of the terrifying and excellent Black Eyes (as well as Kevin Erickson) to help them finish it off.
The Universe and Me
For all the praise that Robert Pollard gets for his prolificness, his on-again/off-again Guided by Voices cohort Tobin Sprout deserves just as much for his patient exactitude. Seven years after his last solo LP, Sprout is returning with a new release—The Universe and Me—that’s worth your time simply because it exists and you should be happy that it does.
Matteo Vallicelli, the live drummer for SF punks Soft Moon, moved to Berlin in 2013, and in the manner of many a musician to move to Berlin before him, he promptly fell in love with the pulse of German techno. He spent years building loops in his bedroom, piecing together stipples of analog synth into percussive hypnotic lines that, if lead single “Michelangelo” is to be believed, sound a bit like Terry Riley tickling the redline.
Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)
Meg Duffy cut her teeth by playing in Kevin Morby’s band for the last couple of years—which is appropriate enough considering that Morby himself was initially known for playing in the band Woods—and now she’s joining him on the solo circuit with her recording moniker Hand Habits. And based on the first two singles, it sounds like she’s also going to be joining him in being beloved for having a sound that is distinctly her own.
Bing & Ruth
No Home of the Mind
David Moore has released a pair of albums under the name Bing & Ruth, both of which patiently weave classical instrumentation into quietly dramatic patterns. No Home of the Mind is the followup to 2014’s gorgeous Tomorrow Was the Golden Age, and it’s Moore’s first since making the jump from RNVG Intl. to 4AD, who have apparently made releasing luminous avant-garde albums a priority in recent years.
As leader of Ought, Tim Darcy is digging fresh mines in the tired artistic territory of North American ennui; we didn’t realize we needed another song about the survival of souls being crushed under the weight of small talk until we heard “Beautiful Blue Sky.” Saturday Night, his solo debut for Jagjaguwar, finds him in a slightly more jangly mode, but his barbs are no less caustic—and his will to thrive is not thwarted.
The Courtneys II
There is only one Courtney in The Courtneys (guitarist and vocalist Courtney Loove, whose name, now that we think about it, seems suspicious), but this is indeed their second album, and it is, incredibly, the first album venerable New Zealand label Flying Nun has ever released by a band not hailing from those august shores. If that last fact isn’t enough to hook you, consider the hookiness of “Silver Velvet,” the album’s lead single.
Field of Love
Caila Thompson-Hannant announced herself to the world as Mozart’s Sister with the patchwork pop of 2014’s Being. Field of Love was inspired largely by the dance pop that ruled the airwaves in the ’90s, but filtered through Thompson-Hannant’s vision, which means that the soft slink of lead single “Angel” has more in common with Autre Ne Veut’s splayed-out R&B than, say, “Run Away.”
The Paperhead on their own are worthy of excitement, but the biggest reason to be hyped by Chew, their upcoming fourth LP, is that it’s the Nashville band’s debut release for Trouble in Mind Records, who have been on a tear of late. 2016 proved that TiM is one of the most important indie labels in the game right now. 2017 should be even better.
Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge
Separately, acoustic guitarists Lage and Eldridge have worked with just about every rootsy jazz or bluegrass group you can think of—Lage played on Nels Cline’s Lovers, Eldridge is a founding Punch Brother—but together they form a generous duo; their considerable virtuosity of each never stands in the way of the other player or, more importantly, the needs of the song at hand. Mount Royal is the followup to 2014’s Avalon, and it promises playing so deft and lighthearted as to nearly mask the fiery fretwork.
Chicago isn’t really a city of garages—it is a city of alleys clean streets and tiny yards—which is probably why the flourishing scene that gave birth to The Orwells and Twin Peaks largely avoids the cliches of the genre. NE-HI are the latest group to break out of the Windy City, and they owe as much to the frosty midwestern malaise of The Replacements and Soul Asylum as they do the sunny brash and bash of The Clean.
Given that there’s only been five of them in the last forty years, a new Feelies release is truly something to behold. Of course, you almost wouldn’t know it based on how effortless they always sound. And this latest LP, In Between, is said to be a mostly home-recorded affair, so it might end up being even more relaxed than usual. All the better, though. At your own pace, fellas.
Ibibio Sound Machine
If you want to own an early pressing of the sophomore effort from London-born, Nigerian-descended Eno Williams’s group, you will most likely have to beat David Byrne in a bicycle race. Their Merge debut promises to synthesize the thumping England of Williams’s raising with the shuffling Lagos beat of her heritage, infusing West African funk and disco with post-punk drive and electro production at a house-burning level.
Freedom is Free
Is Chicano Batman’s whole thing a gimmick? Yes, and that gimmick is that their name, formal wardrobe, and polyglot taste is no gimmick at all but a fully realized sonic idea: even the moniker is a statement that’s political and pop-cultural, serious and silly. For their third album, the East LA quartet worked with producer (and onetime Dap King) Leon Michel, whose horn charts should enhance an already strong set of musical glossolalia.
Digging a Tunnel
Ten years ago, Panda Bear’s Person Pitch redefined the sound collage, taking it from the realm of pure abstraction and headiness and using its complex, nauseating clash of emotions and associations as a way of telling personal stories. In the years since, we’ve seen a rise in artists who approach collage as singer-songwriters, and if his Says Hi EP from last year is any indication, the onetime jazz saxophonist sir Was could be the next to make his mark. The wailing spiritual dissonance of Coltrane is his spirit guide, but—as with Panda—J. Dilla is there to help him keep his feet on the ground, too. Says Hi was a nice introduction; let’s see how far down this thing goes.
Doris and the Daggers
A Tobin Sprout LP and a Spiral Stairs LP less than two months apart? Guess 2017 is officially going to be the year of the unsung heroes in indie rock. And sure, in Spiral’s case this is decidedly not a new Pavement record like pretty much everybody will always want, but it’s more than welcome to have the opportunity to talk specifically about why he rules, too.
Nothing’s been officially announced for Jessica Pratt’s follow-up to On Your Own Love Again, but she did tweet about spitting hot fire in a New York studio last week, so it’s safe to assume that JP3 is on the way. If you happen to catch her in one of Manhattan’s finest vintage shops, however, tell her we said to step on it—with love.
Read our Breaking feature on Jessica Pratt.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
In addition to winning “Most Convoluted New Band Name of 2016,” Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever were also a prime contender to be declared best new band of 2016—period—with their stellar debut EP Talk Tight. Sub Pop also seems to have thought so, which is why they signed the Australian quintet and are going to release their next EP sometime in the Spring. Good luck fitting that name on the cover sleeve, guys.
Bands with true dedication to the DIY scene sometimes end up becoming hazards to themselves, so it was a welcome surprise that Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag took a few very ginger steps toward expanding their operation in 2017. First there was the compilation LP of their three staggering EPs (remastered, kinda!) that hit on New Year’s Day, and now there’s news that their debut LP is imminent. In the words of Shia LaBeouf, “Do it.”
Ed O’Brien has long been the glue of Radiohead. He rarely takes solos, almost never steals the show, and instead just generally holds everything together while Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke go nuts/Colin Greenwood and Philip Selway do polymath equations in their head. After thirty years, however, O’Brien is finally allowing for a little spotlight of his own and is said to have a debut solo LP on the way. Lord only knows what this record will sound like, but regardless we’re dying to find out.
Aldous Harding’s self-titled debut originally came out in 2014, but it wasn’t until Flying Nun reissued it last year that most of us in the States got introduced—and suffice to say, the pleasure was all ours. The New Zealand folk artist’s curious, anachronistic sound is bewitching and beautiful in equal measure, yet never feels lost of way. It’s kind of like hiking at dusk: pretty in the moment, but intrinsically attached to the impending darkness. Harding’s sophomore follow-up is due later this year, and you’d be advised to lace up your boots in anticipation. FL