THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS
Title Push The Button
Advance Buzz The guest-stacked fifth studio album from Britain's dusted duo is expected to shake up the clubs in 2005.
Release date January 25
Three years after the Chemicals' Come With Us, UK poptronic top guns Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons are branching out stylistically, this time going off on a hiphop tangent with rhyme support from Q-Tip on the booty-bumpin' first single, Galvanize, and dabbling in some old-school electro. Yet there's still loads of their patented block-rockin' beats. Celebrity vocal cameos include the Charlatans' Tim Burgess and Bloc Party's Kele Okereke, but sadly, there's no sign of Noel Gallagher this time.
Title Transistor Radio
Advance Buzz The froggy-voiced tunesmith teams up with a slew of cred-heavy collaborators to deliver a politically charged love letter to the golden age of radio DJs.
Release date February 22
It takes balls to kick off your album with an instrumental Brian Wilson cover (especially mere months after Smile finally saw daylight), but Portland's Matt Ward makes it pay off with his downright gorgeous strummed version of You Still Believe In Me, which sets the tone for Transistor Radio.
Along with mentor Howe Gelb, tons of top-notch guests help Ward flesh out the old-school vibe of his raggedly rootsy tunes, from My Morning Jacket main man Jim James and Polly Harvey's drummer, John Parrish, to Vic Chesnutt and Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis.
With indie darlings like the Decemberists in his corner and last year's profile-raising tour with Conor Oberst and My Morning Jacket under his belt, this could be the album that finally nets Ward the attention he deserves.
MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO.
Title Trials & Errors
Advance Buzz An emotionally charged live recording that beard-folk godhead Jason Molina and his tight Magnolia Electric Co. crew made soon after forming in 2003.
Release date January 18
A precursor of the highly anticipated new Magnolia Electric Co. studio album due this spring, the live Trials & Errors disc features three songs that will be on the forthcoming disc, three old Songs: Ohia faves and four previously unissued tunes that will only be available here. The enraptured Belgian audience is so darn quiet, this could pass for a studio set if it weren't for the clapping between songs.
Advance Buzz Former James frontman takes time off from his acting lessons to fill the world with more silly love songs. It's Tim Booth's best work since fame put a hole in his soul.
Release date January 25
Budding thespian Booth was having such a swell time out of the spotlight, he thought he'd just let someone else sing the songs he was writing between acting classes. But fortunately, he came to his senses and recorded his great new compositions himself without much studio fuss. Diehard fans of James will dig it.
Title Fast Cars, Danger, Fire And Knives
Advance Buzz New York hiphop aesthete turns playful on the follow-up to 2003's Bazooka Tooth album.
Release date February 22
With bumpin' beats provided by Blockhead and Rob Sonic and microphone support from CamoTau and El-P, the CD-only Fast Cars EP should help the Def Jux MC break beyond the backpack crowd, while long-time fans can immerse themselves in the career-spanning book of lyrics that comes packaged with initial copies.
SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES
Title Origin Vol. 1
Advance Buzz Stockholm's rock monsters are reported to have written and recorded over 40 songs for their new album, which has been pared down to 11 tunes for release. Don't be surprised if Origin Vol. 2 follows soon.
Release date March 15
Although the new Soundtrack of Our Lives album was released last October in Europe and England, the North American version of Origin Vol. 1 promises an alternate track listing with bonus material drawn from the loads of extra songs the Scando-dandies cut over the year they spent in and out of the recording studio. Evidently, Kevin Rowland of Dexy's Midnight Runners and the Clash's Paul Simonon both stopped by the studio, but thankfully, only French chanteuse Jane Birkin was asked to sing a duet.
Title Make Do With What You Got
Advance Buzz The king of rock 'n' soul hooks up with producer Don Was to build on the Grammy-winning success of 2002's Don't Give Up On Me.
Release date March 1
Once again, Solomon Burke draws on the compositional skills of artists working outside of the R&B realm - namely Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Robbie Robertson, Hank Williams and the Rolling Stones - for the soul-stirring Make Do With What You Got for Shout! Factory, on which he's backed by a crack studio unit including Memphis soul session supremo Reggie Young and Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band drummer James Gadson. The album's title track was written specifically for Burke by Dr. John, who insisted on hand-delivering the tune.
Title Southern Jumbo
Advance Buzz This could be the album that clicks south of the border for Colin Linden.
Release date March 1
The presence of Linden's long-time cohorts John Dymond, Gary Craig and Richard Bell on this album might make it seem to be a thinly disguised Blackie & the Rodeo Kings outing. Hold on. He's also brought in the Memphis Horns and Nashville guitar ace Buddy Miller. With vocal support from Jane Siberry and Kathleen Edwards, Linden may need to raise his booking fees.
ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS
TITLE I Am A Bird Now
ADVANCE BUZZ Androgynous-voiced piano tinkler and sometime Lou Reed backup singer recruits the cream of the queer (and not so queer) musician crop to lend a hand on his emotional opus.
RELEASE DATE February 15
Rufus Wainwright, Boy George, Lou Reed and Devendra Banhart are a few of the folks on hand to help New York-based singer/songwriter Antony flesh out the tunes on his second emotionally fraught full-length album, which sounds a bit like an exact cross between Wainwright's soaring cabaret pop and Banhart's mystical outsider folk, if you can imagine that. I Am A Bird now is devastatingly intense, with low-key string arrangements and hushed, intimate production framing Antony's beautifully bent gender-dysphoric narratives. The quivering crooner scored Peter Hujar's stark 1974 photo of a wilting tranny icon, Candy Darling On Her Deathbed, as cover art, which should give you an idea of the disc's creepy-reverent vibe.
ADVANCE BUZZ Mr. Paltrow and his band of British balladeers attempt to replicate the stupendous success of their first two zillion-selling, falsetto-packed albums.
RELEASE DATE March
Security around the sessions for Coldplay's follow-up to 2002's A Rush Of Blood To The Head has been tighter than Joan Rivers's forehead, but the UK music press claims that while on tour in 2003 the lads recorded and demoed a shitload of new material in Chicago that they promptly scrapped cuz it wasn't up to par. About a year ago, they holed up in a London studio with producer Ken Nelson, who manned the console for both of Coldplay's previous discs (he's also lent swoony sheen to albums by Badly Drawn Boy, Kings of Convenience and Snow Patrol), to tweak tunes with tentative titles like Gravity, Poor Me, Moses and World Turns Upside Down. Sounds about right, huh?
Judging from "side projects" like the Nappies, the fake rap outfit the Coldplayers assembled to amuse Gwynnie while she was knocked up with Chris Martin's kid, the delay on the new disc seems more likely due to the fact that the fellas have been goofing off in their downtime than to obsessive perfectionism, but maybe we're being too harsh. Martin's also reportedly been changing a lot of diapers and cranking the Jay-Z, so who knows? Perhaps Parlophone/EMI can look forward to pushing a hiphop album about baby poo.
ADVANCE BUZZ Fischerspooner trade some of their synths for guitars.
RELEASE DATE March 15
NYC electro-pop art project Fischerspooner have enlisted French producer Mirwais for their upcoming album along with guest appearances by David Byrne, Linda Perry, Susan Sontag and Tony Hoffer. Rumour has it they're getting a bit more rock and are adding guitar in some places. But the sliver we heard of the upcoming single Let It Go on the television show Nip/Tuck suggests they aren't veering too far from the formula they laid out on their debut.
They'll have to expand on that sound to stay vital. The dance-rock pond is a lot more crowded this time around, and conceptual art posing as pop music was a pretty unlikely hit the first time. Smart but disposable is a dangerous line to tread - they'll need to have more musical substance to live up to expectations.
ARMAND VAN HELDEN
ADVANCE BUZZ Big-room house anthems with a touch of rock
RELEASE DATE Spring
Van Helden complained this year about his fans resisting his need to change. "I keep on reinventing myself, but it doesn't really work out that well for me. With each album I tend to alienate the fans I got from the last," he said to NOW on the phone last week.
Most of it hasn't been recorded yet, and he's vague about the direction he's heading in, but the 80s-influenced singles he's dropped this year and the rock-heavy mix CD he just released hint that he's been inspired by the post-everything fusion of styles emerging out of the underground. He dominated the 90s with a long string of house hits, many of which crossed over to the mainstream. Could he be the producer to break rock-house on a commercial level?
ADVANCE BUZZ Fiercely independent feminist icon ditches the funk wankery and gets back to her roots.
RELEASE DATE January 25
Along with her trademark grassroots political rants and press-on nail acoustic attack, Knuckledown has the prolific Buffalo native working with a coproducer for the first time ever – not just any producer, but Madonna’s brother-in-law and Solomon Burke crony Joe Henry, who demonstrates remarkable restraint compared to his customary fiddly production.
DiFranco ditches the awkward funk noodling that’s marred her recent work and returns to writing form with some searing feminist narratives. Throw in excellent guest appearances by the likes of Righteous Babe-signed violin virtuoso Andrew Bird and Knuckledown easily looks to be DiFranco’s best album since 98’s Little Plastic Castle, which sounds slightly ridiculous till you consider she’s released about eight albums since then.