Best bets

Here's an early peek at some of the platters that should matter this year.

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napster and its three-monthleaks of advance music might have made official release schedules irrelevant, but there’s still nothing quite like the feeling of anticipation that comes when you know one of your favourite artists is working on something new.Year 2000 best-of lists are still streaming out, but it’s never too early to start getting excited about the forthcoming records of 2001.

SAUL WILLIAMSThe Brooklyn-born, L.A.-based poet’s debut full-length, Amethyst Rock Star, is already a hot white label in Europe, getting serious play from tastemakers like Gilles Peterson and Rainer Trüby. Exactly what the folks at Columbia will do with it, however, is anything but clear. Rather than put his cerebral verse to the funky but predictable hiphop-friendly beats that his label wanted, Williams recorded a hard-rocking poetry album with Rick Rubin. It’s brilliant but baffling, and by the end of 2001 Williams should be massive. Amethyst Rock Star is due in April.

SPIRITUALIZEDNever the most stable bandleader, Jason Pierce apparently slipped completely off the rails in 2000. Well into recording a new album, the guitarist abruptly fired his entire band, erased all tapes and started over. The new Spiritualized album is now apparently recorded and about to be mixed, but don’t get too excited just yet ­– mixing for Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space took almost two years. Little has slipped out about the new opus other than the fact that it includes a couple of choirs, contributions from Julian Cope’s band, Low vocalist Mimi Parker and producer Jim Dickinson. It may be called Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There, although that title was reported by space cadet Cope, so you never really know. There is no release date yet.

DE LA SOULThe first volume of the Long Island trio’s Art Official Intelligence trilogy, Mosaic Thump, topped year 2000 best-of lists, but the real goods are expected on volume two. While Mosaic Thump was more of a straight-ahead hiphop album, albeit in De La’s cryptic style, the second volume promises to be just the opposite. Guests include Al Green, Biz Markie, Aretha Franklin and Les Nubiens, with Roots’ percussionist ?uestlove overseeing much of the production. At last word, De La were also trying to nail down time with Prince. Expect this late in 2001.

NEUTRAL MILK HOTELAthens, Georgia, thrash-psych crew Neutral Milk Hotel were always the most stable and consistently listenable of the Elephant 6 collective, and seemed to be on the verge of busting big when their In The Aeroplane Over The Sea disc began to attract serious attention. Fame wasn’t really cutting it for leader Jeff Mangum, however, so last year he quit music and joined the circus, spending his spare time writing a film about snails. Now there’s word that Neutral Milk Hotel will be back in 2001, at least in some form. New recordings are unlikely for a while, but scheduled for the racks this year is a two-disc collection of unreleased tunes and recordings from the band’s frantic live sets. No date yet.RADIOHEADAfter all the hype about quitting the official business of the music industry and simply making the records they wanted to make, however uncommercial, Radiohead seem ready to rejoin the real world. Amnesiac, featuring songs recorded during the Kid A sessions as well as newer tracks, will be released in June. Guitarist Ed O’Brien describes the record as “more like the Bends than Kid A, and surprisingly poppy, at least for Radiohead.” The disc will be supported by videos, singles and a proper tour, all things Radiohead swore they’d never do again.JEFF BECK An advance listen of the guitarist’s forthcoming disc, You Had It Coming ­– set to drop February 6 ­– confirms our man has made friends with technology. Though using only his white Fender Stratocaster and an amp, Beck embraces drum loops and programming while refusing to stick to traditional time signatures. If the storming opening salvo, Earthquake, isn’t optioned for a video game soundtrack, someone’s not doing his job. And the mostly instrumental, very economical set also features a duet with a real, live blackbird. Beat that.OL’ DIRTY BASTARDMore a faint hope than a confirmed release, but not entirely unlikely. The chance of new music from the Wu’s finest seemed slim after the crack-smoking MC escaped from rehab and went underground, claiming he’d never be caught because all he’d eat was birdseed. Before being nabbed in a McDonald’s parking lot, however, Dirty apparently stopped by the Wu’s home studio to record a handful of tracks with producer RZA. The Wu architect describes the new tracks as “extremely bizarre.” Good enough for me.

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