Well, hello there. Nothing like some time apart to make you realize how much you miss someone, is there?
How was your holiday? Mine was quite nice. Drove 1,000 miles to the east coast, got to see some great old friends and meet some great new ones, scored some nifty swag (like the Beatles Anthology DVD set, which I am watching right now), and then drove 1,000 miles back a couple days early, successfully beating a fierce winter storm. I did, sadly, spend most of the next week fighting off a persistent illness, but I still found time to listen to a few important records that snuck out before the end of the year, and I’ll get to those next week. Overall, though, my 2014 ended well, and my 2015 is off to a good start.
So, yeah. 2015. If you’re keeping track, this is the beginning of Year 15 of this silly music column. I was 25 years old when I started it. I’m four decades old now, and I don’t feel any different. So of course, I’m just going to keep doing what I do – 50 or so of these things before the end of the year. I’m immensely grateful for everyone who has come along on any part of this journey. I’ll keep making these until it stops being fun, but with so many great people coming into my life through this column, I don’t see it becoming less fun anytime soon.
The music certainly helps, too. 2014 was a hell of a good year for new releases, so 2015 has a lot to live up to. Still, based on early evidence, I would say 2015 is up for the challenge. It’s early days, of course, but here are 15 reasons (14 records and a movie) to love the coming year.
Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities to Love (January 20)
Yeah, Portlandia is great, but I’m much more excited by Carrie Brownstein’s return to the band that made her name. It’s been a decade since The Woods, which is more than enough time without this trio’s raw, raucous sound. This will probably be the first new album I review this year, and I’m looking forward to it immensely.
Belle and Sebastian’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (January 20)
Every album by this lovely Scottish ensemble is an event in my house. This new one follows up the quite-good Write About Love, and hits in the aftermath of frontman Stuart Murdoch’s film God Help the Girl. They’re on a roll right now, as much as a twee orchestral chamber-pop outfit can be said to be on a roll, and the first single from this hour-plus-long record (“The Cat With the Cream”) promises a buttoned-up, eloquent good time.
Remasters of Jellyfish’s Bellybutton and Spilt Milk (January 20)
Finally! These two records, the only output of California’s amazing collective Jellyfish, are the standard by which modern power-pop is measured. I don’t use the word “perfect” very often, but both of these albums are absolutely perfect. Now, to celebrate Bellybutton’s 25th anniversary (and man, does that make me feel old), Omnivore Records is finally reissuing both in pristine digital form on double-disc sets loaded with bonus material. I look forward to rediscovering these sublime works all over again.
Punch Brothers’ The Phosphorescent Blues (January 27)
No, you’re not imagining things. Yes, Chris Thile is aiming to challenge Robert Pollard for most prolific musician on the planet. Just last year, he reunited with the Watkins siblings in Nickel Creek and gifted us with the awesome A Dotted Line and collaborated with bassist Edgar Meyer on the fittingly titled Bass and Mandolin, and now he’s back with his supernaturally talented combo, redefining bluegrass once again. This time there’s a drummer on board, the wonderful Jay Bellerose, and the shift in sound has me seriously intrigued.
Quiet Company’s Transgressor (February 24)
It’s no secret that Quiet Company’s last effort, the epic We Are All Where We Belong, is one of my favorite records. The follow-up, promised last year but finally arriving next month, looks to be a leaner-and-meaner stab at wider popularity – it will be their first release on a label since tiny Northern Records issued their debut in 2006. Taylor Muse and his merry men have yet to let me down, and the tight, powerful, melodic songs I’ve heard from this keep the streak alive. Hopefully this will be the year that Quiet Company becomes as big as I often mistakenly think they already are.
Modest Mouse’s Strangers to Ourselves (March 3)
It’s been six years since we’ve heard from Isaac Brock and his legendary band, which is a small eternity in the world he inhabits. Johnny Marr’s out of the band, and it remains to be seen how keenly his absence will be felt on Strangers to Ourselves. Given the sheer quality of the band’s last three albums, this one has big shoes to fill. The weight of expectation only makes returns like this more exciting, though, doesn’t it?
Steven Wilson’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. (March 3)
Wilson never goes away long enough to mount a long-awaited return, but that’s no bad thing. The Porcupine Tree and No-Man mastermind issued his third solo album, the tremendous The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories), two years ago, and now he’s back with a 65-minute concept record about isolation and death. Much of this is apparently written from a female perspective and sung by Israeli vocalist Ninet Tayeb. Everything Wilson does is worth hearing, and this sounds like it’s going to be phenomenal.
Laura Marling’s Short Movie (March 24)
I don’t know when I’m going to stop pointing this out, but Laura Marling is only 24 years old. Already she’s amassed a body of work that would make songwriters twice her age weep with envy. Short Movie is her fifth album, coming on the heels of 2013’s astounding Once I Was an Eagle, and there’s no doubt it will contain more searing, stunning works of honesty, written with a literate perspective that belies her youth. She’s one to watch, for sure.
Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell (March 31)
Of everything on this list, I’m probably anticipating this just-announced new record from Sufjan the most. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think Stevens is the most important new artist of the last 20 years (you heard me, Kanye), and his expansive range is just one reason why. He’s chosen to follow up the mind-blowing The Age of Adz with what appears to be a collection of emotional folk songs, reminiscent of Seven Swans, and to name the album after his mother and stepfather. It all sounds beautiful, and I want to hear it right now.
U2’s Songs of Experience (TBA)
The bad news is, we’re probably going to have to buy this one instead of getting it for free. But everything else is good news – an entire companion album to Songs of Innocence, U2’s finest record in more than 20 years, is on its way. If the second set of songs is as tight, clear-eyed and emotionally resonant as the first, it’ll be a dream for this longtime fan.
Duncan Sheik’s Legerdemain (TBA)
Sheik could easily spend the rest of his life writing successful scores for musicals, or even just coasting on his Spring Awakening laurels. I’m overjoyed that he wants to keep making pop records, because he’s remarkably good at it. Legerdemain will follow up 2009’s Whisper House (itself a set of songs from a musical), and the two songs available from it now uphold Sheik’s long tradition of thoughtful, slowly unfolding folk-pop. Sheik has never disappointed me, and I don’t expect him to start now.
Faith No More’s new album (TBA)
This is not a hoax, not an imaginary story. Faith No More, one of the least likely success stories of all time, has reunited and will be issuing their first record in 18 years. I’m not sold by the first single, the half-written “Motherfucker,” but I’ve yet to meet a Faith no More album I didn’t find at least intriguing. Just for the novelty of hearing Mike Patton scream over this band’s particular sonic stew again, I’m excited.
Joanna Newsom’s new album (TBA)
There’s only one Joanna Newsom, and it’s been a sad five years without her. 2010’s Have One on Me, a sprawling triple record, cemented her place as one of the most original songwriters playing right now, particularly given her chosen instrument, the harp. Newsom’s been working steadily on album number four, and rumor is this is the year we’ll get to hear it.
The Cure’s 4:14 Scream and 4:26 Dream (TBA)
This one’s here to put hopeful thoughts out into the universe, in the hopes that it will respond. It’s been seven years since 4:13 Dream, the reportedly lighter half of a planned double release (and the best Cure album in years), and since then, Robert Smith has talked about the follow-up, 4:14 Scream, as if it’s imminent. He’s also talked about 4:26 Dream, the original double record in its intended form. Speaking personally, I want both, especially if the Cure is dead as a recording entity. Bring it on, Robert.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December 18)
In many ways, the single most important thing happening this year. The Star Wars saga grows beyond its creator for the first time, setting the stage for years of new stories, and as much as I love those original films, the idea of a world-building tale that will outlive me makes me kind of giddy. This will be Star Wars for the next generation, and on that note, I’m beyond excited to take my soon-to-be-three-years-old nephew Luke to see this film next Christmas. The first film I vividly remember seeing in the theater is The Empire Strikes Back, when I was three, and I’m hopeful that The Force Awakens will give him the same mind-widening experience.
For right now, that’s my year. There’s more, of course – new records from the Decemberists and the Church and Neal Morse and the Mavericks and Bjork and Death Cab for Cutie and many others I don’t even know about yet. But even without all that, these 15 reasons are enough to keep me going, keep me in wide-eyed anticipation of what’s next.
What is next? Well, next week I’ll be reviewing three records that barely squeaked out before the end of 2014. And after that, I start tackling the new stuff, most likely Sleater-Kinney and Guster. Year 15, folks. Here we go. Thanks for reading.
See you in line Tuesday morning.