“You’ve redecorated. I don’t like it.” – Patrick Troughton, The Three Doctors.
Hello and welcome to the new Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. You’re looking at the first major upgrade in this column’s appearance and functionality in probably a decade. I’m still getting used to it myself, but I think it’s quite an improvement, while still retaining the column-out-front-archive-in-back feel that I wanted when I started this thing. And those of you who like to read things on your fancy mobile phones should have a much easier time.
For me, not that you should care about this so much, it’s a lot easier. I write, do some light formatting and set it to post. That’s the whole process. You should have seen the HTML hand-coding mess I was working with before. I feel like I’ve stepped into the 2000s, just in time for the 2010s to wind down. As always, many thanks to Michael Ferrier, who put this all together without asking for money or anything. He’s one of my best friends in the world, and this is but one of the millions of reasons I’m grateful for him.
Anyway, we’re back. This is year 17 of this silly music column, and I always start the year off the same way: with a list of things to look forward to over the upcoming months. It’s harder this year. We’re less than two weeks from the dawning of Trump’s America, and it’s not the America I recognize. I feel like we’re seconds from impact, careening off a cliff, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
For me, solace has always come in the form of art, and music especially. That’s why I feel like this list is even more important this year. If nothing else, the fight against evil in 2017 is going to have a good soundtrack. If you need reasons to get out of bed, reasons to keep on keeping on this year, here are 17 of them that I know about. In fact, I didn’t even need to go outside the realm of music this year, so you can just count the next season of Doctor Who and Star Wars: Episode VIII as givens.
1. Pain of Salvation, The Passing Light of Day.
As always, we start with the albums that have names and release dates and are certain to appear. I’m predicting that this new one from Sweden’s unclassifiable Pain of Salvation will be the year’s first great album. It promises a return to their louder, more progressive style, but as it’s also the debut of an almost entirely new band (still led by certified genius Daniel Gildenlow), I imagine it could go anywhere and be anything. Which has been the band’s modus operandi for years. In the Passing Light of Day is out this week, kicking the year off right.
2. The Flaming Lips, Oczy Mlody.
I also have high hopes for the return of the Lips, also slated for this week. They’ve become such a scattered bundle of ideas lately that whenever Wayne Coyne and company get their act together enough to create a solid body of new work, it’s exciting. They’re taking an average of four years between each one these days, but the last two were quite strong, if quite bizarre. Miley Cyrus is on this one, furthering one of the weirdest musical relationships I’m aware of.
3. Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau
Chris Thile is the mandolin genius behind Punch Brothers, and one-third of Nickel Creek. Brad Mehldau is one of the most exciting pianists on the jazz scene, whether he’s playing solo or with his trio. Separately they’re incredible musicians, so this meeting of their minds is a thrilling prospect. Their styles are remarkably different, so I’m interested to hear how they meld what they do into a cohesive whole. The two-disc album contains covers of Elliott Smith and Gillian Welch tunes, too, in case you weren’t excited enough. It’s out Jan. 27.
4. Elbow, Little Fictions.
Is there a more consistent band in the world than Elbow? They’ve staked out their territory, playing slow, patient, glorious art-rock over six previous albums, and this seventh one doesn’t seem like it will change their identity. The first two singles have been classic Elbow, soaring and melancholy, rising on the one-of-a-kind voice of Guy Garvey. History tells me this one’s going to be fantastic. It’s out Feb. 3.
5. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Zombies on Broadway.
Andrew McMahon is the piano-playing songwriter behind Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate, and his debut three years ago as Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness saw him stripping back all the grandiose guitars and relying on pianos and keys. It was marvelous, and the three songs I’ve heard so far from this follow-up are equally marvelous. I wish more pop records sounded like McMahon’s. This one hits stores on Feb. 10.
6. Ryan Adams, Prisoner.
Ryan Adams used to be the kind of songwriter who would put out three albums in a year, but it’s been three since we’ve heard a new batch of his songs. (I’m not counting his full-album cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989, good as it was.) Prisoner aims to rectify that with an ‘80s-inspired vibe, and the tracks released so far could have come from a Tom Petty session from 30 years ago. Here’s hoping this is as good as Adams can be when he puts his mind to it. Prisoner is out Feb. 17.
7. Grandaddy, Last Place.
Just the fact that this album exists and we’ll get to hear it soon is exciting. Jason Lytle’s orchestral-indie band broke up 11 years ago, gifting us with a grand finale called Just Like the Fambly Cat. Now we’re on the verge of Grandaddy’s return, and if you remember them fondly, the first single from Last Place should get that tingly feeling on the back of your neck going. The new Grandaddy album (I can’t believe I get to type that phrase) is out on March 3.
8. The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir.
The last time Stephin Merritt gifted us with dozens of new tunes at once, the result was 69 Love Songs, the album that took his Magnetic Fields to a new level of popularity and respect. This new album follows a similar path, including 50 songs (one for each year of Merritt’s life) over two and a half hours, arranged as an autobiography of sorts. Merritt is one of the wittiest and sharpest songwriters alive, and I’m jazzed to hear him sink his teeth into something huge and significant again. This beast is out March 3, and with Grandaddy out the same day, March 3 gets my vote for most exciting release date of the year right now.
9. The Shins, Heartworms.
This fifth album by New Mexico’s favorite jangle-pop sons was just announced, along with a pre-release single that’s, you know, OK. But I have faith in James Mercer, particularly because the first three Shins albums were so solid. I wasn’t a fan of Port of Morrow, and I’m hopeful that Heartworms, five years in the making, will outdo it in every way. The new Shins is out March 10.
10. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Damage and Joy.
Another reunion I never thought I would live to see. It’s been nearly 20 years since the brothers Reid dropped new music on us, and ten since their seminal noise-rock band reunited, but here we are. Damage and Joy is 14 new songs, led by the pretty good single “Amputation,” and here’s hoping it’s good enough to spark an entire new generation of fans. We’ll see on March 24.
11. Aimee Mann, Mental Illness.
A new Aimee Mann album is always cause for celebration. Mann remains one of the finest songwriters working today, and her ninth was preceded by an anti-Trump song called “Can’t You Tell” that approached our president-elect with more sensitivity than he deserves. Whether the album contains more along these lines is anyone’s guess at this point, but I’m so ready to pony up for another dozen or so Aimee Mann songs, whatever they’re about. Look for it on March 31.
12. A new Choir album and tour
Now we get into things that will most likely come out next year, but have no definite details. Most important to me is news that the Choir is making a new album. They’re perhaps my favorite band in the world, and they’ve been on a hot streak lately, culminating in Shadow Weaver, their 2014 late-career masterpiece. While the new one may or may not come out in 2017, the Choir does plan a tour behind a new remaster of their amazing Wide-Eyed Wonder album from 1989, playing the whole thing from top to bottom, and we’ll get singer/guitarist Derri Daugherty’s new solo album this year as well. Every year’s a good year to be a Choir fan, but this one looks to be something special.
13. Two new Nine Inch Nails albums.
A couple weeks ago Trent Reznor dropped an EP called Not the Actual Events. It’s an unpleasant affair, slinky and unsettling, noisy and uncompromising in ways Nine Inch Nails has not been in a long time. As a palette cleanser for two major new projects this year, it’s a beautiful statement of intent. I’m always on board for new Reznor music, and it sounds like we’re about to get a lot of it.
14. The third Fleet Foxes album.
I know, we’ve been hearing about this for years, but it sounds like it’s actually coming this time. It’s been nearly six years since Robin Pecknold’s spiritual folk band issued their second album, the fantastic Helplessness Blues, and I’ve almost forgotten what a revelation their woodsy harmonies and timeless songwriting were. Almost. I’m ready for more.
15. A new Gorillaz album.
This actually looks like it will happen this year too. Damon Albarn has long been one of the most elusive figures in popular music, taking Blur to the brink of psychedelic noise, taking on strange projects like Monkey and Mali Music, and, with Gorillaz, embracing hip-hop and dance beats while not compromising his odd pop sensibilities. It’s been six years since we’ve heard from his fictional band of miscreants, and that’s too damn long.
16. A new Arcade Fire album.
Speaking of unpredictable, there’s this group. After Reflektor, their dance-pop Talking Heads-esque epic from four years ago, it’s up in the air where Arcade Fire will go next. As always, though, I’m fascinated to find out. It looks like we should be able to hear this thing sometime in spring or summer.
17. U2, Songs of Experience.
And finally, the most tenuous of the lot. Yes, this was on last year’s list, and yes, I honestly expected it then. I hope we get to hear the follow-up to Songs of Innocence sometime in 2017. (Update: It looks like they’re taking more time with it, to address our new Trumpian reality.) I will always be a U2 fan, and hence will always be interested in what they do, but I’m actually giddy for this album since its predecessor (yes, the iTunes album) was the best thing the band had done since Achtung Baby in 1991. Songs of Innocence recaptured an old fire, aiming for sounds that could sit nicely next to their classic work, and if they can retain that fire while moving into more modern waters, it will be a joy to hear.
There’s more, of course – I didn’t even talk about highly anticipated new albums from Beck and Sigur Ros, for instance – but that should do as a starter set. And of course, as the year goes on, I expect many, many more announcements and releases, and hence many, many more reasons to love this year. There are already a few things out that we haven’t discussed, like the surprisingly strong new Kid Cudi album, or the wondrously weary new Bill Mallonee record, or Brian Eno’s new ambient piece. While I expect 2017 to suck beyond measure in so many ways, I’m hopeful that the music will help get us through it. Let’s find out.
Next week, we circle back to an old-school musical monster who had a hell of a 2016.
See you in line Tuesday morning.