Let’s face it: music listeners were impossibly spoiled by 2013. Headlined by anticipated return records by massive artists like Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, and Arcade Fire, propelled by great albums by thrilling rookies like Chance the Rapper, and punctuated by an out-of-nowhere Beyoncé-sized surprise, 2013’s releases were so straightforwardly good that many best-of lists looked largely like carbon copies. But while the year to come has fewer stadium-sized names to anticipate, it is buoyed by a raft of releases that will determine whether or not certain bands deliver on their initial promise, as well as follow-ups by some reliably excellent bands. And besides, if Queen Bey taught us anything, it’s that it’s honestly too early to say. Daft Punk didn’t even set its release date for Random Access Memories until May. And there are plenty of big names “expected” to release albums this year, but it’s impossible to predict potential delays: Kanye West, the Foo Fighters, Rihanna, the Hold Steady, the Wu-Tang Clan, Lily Allen, and perhaps most curiously, a Lady Gaga-Tony Bennett collaboration. So let all expectations be forgot—this is set to be a big year, too. Here are the albums we’re pretty confident will come out this year and that we’re most excited about, in no particular order.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Give The People What They Want
Is there any band working today that brings the funk better? The fruitful collaboration between the Dap-Kings—perhaps best known as Amy Winehouse’s backing band—and Sharon Jones, a 57-year-old former prison guard lifted out of middle-aged obscurity, is back for its fifth studio record. But there’s one difference wrinkling what should otherwise be, at the very least, another solid revivalist funk record: Jones’s recent diagnosis of, and subsequent recovery from, bile-duct cancer, which pushed the album’s release to January in the first place and cancelled a slew of shows. But the group and its feisty supernova frontwoman has long suffered from the problem that its on-stage magic was dulled by the flash-freezing of putting it on wax, but the emotion associated with her diagnosis may make this the band’s best album yet. (Jan. 14)
TV On The Radio – TBA
Here’s more tragedy for a beloved indie band: the Brooklyn darlings lost their bassist Gerard Smith to lung cancer. But two full years after the already morose (but beautiful) album Nine Types of Light, it appears the purveyors of quirky, baleful electro-rock are ready to get back into the studio. The experimental band has trended more toward melancholy electro-soul as of late anyway, and we should expect more of the same. (Release date TBA)
Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron
If Kendrick Lamar—the boy prince of the rap game—is hip-hop’s Batman, the bucket-hat-wearing Schoolboy Q is his Robin. That’s not just for the simplistic reason that Q is seen as the second-in-command of Lamar’s California collective TDE, but also because he’s a growling wildchild on the mic, all hedonism and goofball charm—not to mention the fact that it doesn’t take long for Robin to eventually become the Bat’s peer. It’s hard to expect Q’s major-label debut to match the dark narrative and lyrical breadth of Lamar’s good kid m.a.a.d. city, nor should we: Schoolboy Q is a gruff voice all his own, in a genre that is quickly seeing the appeal of weirdos like Chance the Rapper and Danny Brown. (Feb. 25)
Beck – Morning Phase
Inspired by the 2002 infidelity of his longtime girlfriend, Beck’s Sea Change is exquisite breakup music, and after a long pause since 2008’s Modern Guilt, many of the same folks are back from that album to collaborate on the upcoming LP, Morning Phase. He’s already called it a “companion piece” to Sea Change, and attaching a new work to a past classic can be a fraught, expectation-raising prospect (see, most recently, the disaster that was Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP 2). But while fans have been buoyed by the danceable earworms on records like Guero, they’ve longed for a full-length album that can break their heart and assemble it back together again. (February 2014)
Pharrell Williams – TBA
He’s the man of the moment, and for very good reason: with major parts in Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, he conquered the summer. But those recent smash hits in the short memory of the pop milieu make it easy to forget that the boyish ageless wonder (seriously, the guy is somehow 40 years old) is a hitmaker nonpareil, whose very first solo track Frontin’ remains a definitive snapshot of the early aughts, and who has generated such generational songs as Britney Spears’s I’m a Slave 4 U. The multimedia experience for the bubbly Happy—a 24-hour-long music video—has only confirmed what we all know: in the world of music, this is the kind of momentum you could only beg for, and Lil’ Skateboard P has got it in spades. (Release date TBA)
Taylor Swift – TBA
It’s time to talk Tay-Tay, an artist who so conquers the cultural zeitgeist that all we can do once she comes out with an album is figure out what relationship she’s referring to in her songs, drawing out maps like it’s an episode of Criminal Minds. Her last album saw her move decisively away from the earnest country music that got her here, lacing more typical pop songs with her country twang, to largely fascinating results. She’s now a pop superstar through and through, and a new record would go a long way to figuring out what to make of this new hybrid, a darker, braver Taylor. (Release date TBA)
Sampha – TBA
The minimalist electro soundscapes espoused by James Blake and Drake producer Noah “40” Shebib are having their moment. So it should surprise no one that the breathy U.K. crooner (and, yes, Drake collaborator) is about to have his. Blending prodigal piano skills with a breathy soulfulness that can still a room, Sampha has as good a chance as anyone to conquer the R&B world, much as Frank Ocean ensnared 2011. And speaking of Frank Ocean…
Frank Ocean – TBA
There has been no formal announcement from the tight-lipped R&B megastar who took the world by storm two years ago—nothing beyond a vague suggestion to a fan that new music was forthcoming this summer. That single sentence has been enough fodder for many to froth for a new album from Ocean, whose gorgeous, intimate Channel Orange won a Grammy, challenged boundaries and opened minds.
KEEP AN EYE ON:
Rapping over crisp sunny beats that bleed California love, the young rapper has been biding his time since his remarkable debut. He blends lyrical wordplay and the earnestness of youth so well you won’t even realize how hard you’re nodding your head.
Honey-voiced, simple production. Sound familiar? Sure, but the 21-year-old’s voice is next-level good, and puts it to use on every track. There’s a good chance we’ll hear his name on the lips of many critics at the end of the year.
Katy Perry-approved, Fall Out Boy-tested, Florence Welch-inspired, Lorde-level talent and quirk. She’s already associated with a Grammy nominee (she supplies the supple vocals on the EDM track Clarity by Zedd) and can only soar from here.
The soundalike pipes of Mariah Carey and the boldness to collaborate at the age of 20 on strange projects (including with left-field rapper Mac Miller, for instance) means that Grande has only grand possibilities in front of her.
This prolific mixtape rapper is being viewed as the herald of a return to New York’s boom-bap golden era, and a fiery debut album would stoke the hype into heat. It’s an expectation all the more impressive considering he’s not even old enough to buy a beer in Canada.