Oh, hi! There you are. I’ve missed you.
Welcome to year sixteen of this silly music column. I’m not sure I’m ready to be on the downward slope toward two decades of this thing, but here we are. I was 26 when I started scribbling my musical thoughts down for the internet to read, and now I’m 41. I own a home, I have a good job, and I have a nice life, despite the fact that I still get depressed for no reason. But I’m working on that too. Life is very different than I thought it would be, but I’m in a good place, and I’m glad to be here.
And man, does 2016 look like a good year from where I sit. There are all kinds of life-related reasons I’m looking forward to the next 12 months, but I’ll stick to the entertainment-related ones here. I had some difficulty finding 15 reasons to love 2015 a year ago, but only two of those things didn’t end up panning out, and three of them wound up on my top 10 list. By contrast, I had no trouble coming up with 16 reasons to love 2016, and in fact I thought of more than I needed, and had to leave a couple off this list.
In short, it’s gonna be a good year. Here are 16 reasons why.
1. Megadeth, Dystopia.
Let’s start off with the albums I know are on their way. If you’d asked me back in high school whether Megadeth would still be going when I was over 40, I would have said… well, frankly, I would have said, “Of course they will.” But even my idealistic teenage metalhead self couldn’t have guessed that they would still be this good. Everything I’ve heard from album 15, Dystopia, is that classic blend of melodic and insanely heavy that Dave Mustaine does better than anyone. This one feels like a return to basics after the diverse Super Collider, but that’s OK. The basics are pretty awesome. Dystopia is out this week. (My inner teenage metalhead is also pretty excited about the new Anthrax, For All Kings – it’s their second since reuniting with singer Joey Belladonna, and it’s out Feb. 26.)
2. Shearwater, Jet Plane and Oxbow.
It’s been almost four years since Animal Joy, the last original album from Jonathan Meiburg and his band, and I’m excited to see where they go next. Shearwater has been on a purposeful journey from placid epics to more propulsive material, all of it powered by Meiburg’s unique, haunting voice. Jet Plane and Oxbow, out this week, promises a shift in sound to a more electronic palette, and though that sort of thing usually makes me wary, if any band can pull off that transition and make something extraordinary, it’s Shearwater.
3. Lush box set and new album.
So basically, every shoegaze band that was big when I was in high school and college is now back together and giving us new material. My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver, Ride and Slowdive have all re-emerged, and now Lush is on the train. Next week, the tremendous British band will grant us a box set called Chorus that includes all of their albums and EPs, and sometime later this year, they’ll release a new record and tour behind it. I can’t wait.
4. Dream Theater, The Astonishing.
It’s been a while since I’ve breathlessly anticipated a Dream Theater album. But then, they’ve never made one like The Astonishing, a 130-minute sci-fi rock opera with a crazy backstory and a goofy power-of-music theme. The whole thing sounds totally ridiculous, which is exactly where Dream Theater lives. This is really their first major piece of work since Mike Portnoy left, and everything I hear about it makes me believe they all truly committed to it. Because if you’re gonna do a two-hour homage to 2112, you can’t half-ass it. This sounds… well, astonishing. It’s out next week.
5. The return of The X-Files.
Here’s a great way to round off January – six new episodes of the best paranoid sci-fi thriller ever. Helmed by creator Chris Carter and featuring some of the best writers of the original run (Darin Morgan!), this new X-Files mini-series will hopefully kickstart a renaissance. Or, at the very least, put a better capper on the show than the second movie did. Trust no one.
6. Kanye West, Swish.
So Yeezus wasn’t very good, and the songs I’ve heard from Swish have been a mixed bag, and I liked the previous, more humble title – So Help Me God – a lot better. Still, I’m quite looking forward to hearing Kanye’s seventh album. He’s one of the most talented record-makers in rap, and everything he’s done has been a grand departure from its predecessor. He’s spent a long time on this one, and I hope it’ll be worth it. Swish is out Feb. 11.
7. Nada Surf, You Know Who You Are.
This year is the 20th anniversary of Nada Surf’s debut, which featured their one and only hit (“Popular”). Frankly, it’s amazing that they recovered from that song at all, considering how little it sounds like the rest of their output, but it’s equally amazing that they’ve slowly transformed into one of the best pop-rock outfits around. You Know Who You Are, out on March 4, will be the band’s eighth, and if it’s even half as good as their last one, 2012’s The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy, it’ll be very good indeed. I’m always happy to see one-hit wonders survive and thrive, and Nada Surf is one of the most deserving examples of that I can think of.
8. A new Marillion album and tour.
There are few phrases that get me more excited than “a new Marillion album,” but one of them is “a new Marillion album and tour.” Marillion is one of my very favorite bands, and that they’ve remained incredibly creative and self-sufficient for as long as they have is completely remarkable. Their new, as-yet-untitled album will be their 18th – yes, 18th – and reports from the studio are encouraging. (Three epics!) The band funded this one through PledgeMusic, remaining their own bosses, and once it’s out this spring, they’ll be launching a world tour. They’ll be in Chicago for the first time in four years in October, and nothing will keep me away.
9. Bryan Scary’s Birds.
Speaking of independent musicians working through PledgeMusic, there’s Bryan Scary. He’s an absolute genius, having penned some of my favorite pop records of the past decade. Last year, he concentrated on his wonderful new band, Evil Arrows, issuing five terrific EPs before diving into Birds, his first new album in four years. I’ve pre-ordered, but I have no idea what to expect, other than brilliance.
10. The Nice Guys.
Seriously, have you seen that trailer?
11. A new Nine Inch Nails album.
Believe me, I’m beyond overjoyed that Trent Reznor has found a second career as an Oscar-winning composer. His film scores are dark and moody wonders, and I’ve often enjoyed them more than the films themselves. But nothing beats a new Nine Inch Nails record, and Reznor has promised one for 2016. This will be the follow-up to 2013’s Hesitation Marks, which updated and expanded the NIN sound nicely. Reznor’s body of work is remarkably consistent – more so than I would have expected 20 years ago – and I’m looking forward to where he goes next.
12. Circle of Dust reissues and new album.
Speaking of ‘90s industrial bands, here’s your chance to hear one of the best and most overlooked of them. Like NIN, Circle of Dust was a one-man project, and that one man now creates full-color electronic wonders under the name Celldweller. Circle of Dust made three albums, and all three of those, plus remix project Metamorphosis and side effort Argyle Park, will be released on Klayton’s own label with hours and hours of bonus material. I’m excited to see this chapter of industrial music’s history get the treatment it deserves. And he’s hinted at a new Circle of Dust record to accompany all the old stuff, which would just be marvelous.
13. James Blake, Radio Silence.
I feel like we’ve known the title of James Blake’s third album for years now. It’s been a long wait, but Blake is always worth it. He has a voice like no one else, and a minimalist sensibility that somehow finds the perfect almost-there backdrops for that voice. Evidently Kanye West is somehow involved with this one, which makes it even more intriguing… and makes waiting for it even more difficult.
14. Radiohead’s ninth album.
It’s been five long years since the relatively underwhelming The King of Limbs, and Radiohead has never taken this much time between albums. The stars are aligning, though, and they’re saying that the band’s ninth effort isn’t far off. I expect another surprise self-released effort, but what the music will sound like I have no idea. Will it be closer to the warm pop of In Rainbows or to the colder, more exacting jigsaw of Limbs? As usual, the band is telling us nothing.
15. U2, Songs of Experience.
Yes, this was on the list last year – it was one of the two predictions that didn’t pan out. (The other involved the Cure.) I’m hopeful, though, that the follow-up to the excellent Songs of Innocence will be with us this year. The fact that I’ve included this two years running should tell you how psyched I am for it. I hope we get to hear it in 2016.
16. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
I’ll close this list the same way I closed last year’s: with a new Star Wars movie. I enjoyed The Force Awakens at least as much as I expected I would – I have problems with it, but then I have problems with all of them, and this movie kickstarted the franchise in style. That’s what Star Wars is now, for better or worse – a franchise – and Rogue One should make that clear. The first movie set between episodes, this will be the story of the brave band of rebels that stole the plans for the original Death Star and got them to Princess Leia before the start of Episode IV. That’s a great idea for a movie, but even if it doesn’t work out, Episode VIII will be out five months later. We will soon double the number of existing Star Wars movies, and that thought thrills and chills me in equal measure. Like my other obsession, Doctor Who, Star Wars is going to outlive me, but I’m going to enjoy what I get to see.
And we’re off and running. Next week, I will review the first great album of 2016, and I bet you can guess what it is. Thanks to everyone taking this journey with me. Year sixteen! Hey ho, let’s go. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook here.
See you in line Tuesday morning.